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投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 12 月 04 日 16:10:51:WmYnAkBebEg4M

(回答先: カエルは不撓不屈の精神か、、、。 投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 12 月 04 日 15:23:44)



投稿者 クエスチョン 日時 2004 年 7 月 16 日 06:51:50:WmYnAkBebEg4M


Shimada, a mischievous yet passionate actor

Ken Ogata, one of Japan's top screen and stage actors, started out his acting career as a member of the Shinkokugeki Theatrical Troupe. But he came close to quitting it at one time.

``I can't stand it anymore,'' he shouted at the top of his voice at a general meeting of the company. ``I didn't come here to be a servant. I want to be an actor.''

For some reason, the troupe had been unwilling to admit Ogata. Only his eager plea prevailed on it to change its mind. But life inside the company turned out to be cruel. There was little time to learn acting. Every day, he was verbally abused by fellow members, even slugged sometimes. All this is according to a book titled ``Shinkokugeki Nanajunen Eiko-no Kiroku'' (The record of Shinkokugeki's 70 glorious years).



Ogata was prepared to be fired for his outburst. Instead, Shogo Shimada, the company's lead actor, promoted him over many heads and assigned him an important role, the book says. By origin, Shinkokugeki (new national drama) stands for a new form of the theater that was launched by Shojiro Sawada in the Taisho Era (1912-1926).

It was shortly before the succeeding Showa Era ended in 1989 that the curtain came down on the new drama's 70-year history and the troupe formed to stage it was dissolved.

With the company gone, Shimada continued to perform solo plays. But he died at age 98 last week.


In 1995, the star of Shinkokugeki received an award commemorating Tsubouchi Shoyo (1859-1935), Japan's earliest translator of Shakespearean plays, from the city of Mino-Kamo in Gifu Prefecture where the novelist-playwright-critic was born. In his acceptance speech, Shimada said: ``Shinkokugeki may be likened to a frog that keeps jumping at a drooping willow branch no matter how many times it fails to succeed. What drives us on is the indomitable spirit of Sawada, the man who founded the genre.''

The frog reference was derived from Sawada's slogan: ``We have two masters to serve-art on the right and the masses on the left. And our flag bears a picture of a willow tree and a frog.''


When Shimada staged a solo play in 1996, he told the audience that he was hoping to perform a solo play at the age of 99. ``I have already chosen the drama to perform then, but I would like to keep secret what that drama would be.''

With his grave and serious acting, Shimada enabled the audience to experience the deepest of human sentiments. One also detected the look of a mischievous yet passionate young man.


During an interview with the actor, Yuko Hayashi, his oldest daughter, handed a deck of homemade cards to author Chieko Akiyama, who was taking notes. It was a gift the woman received from her father when she was a little girl. Shimada wrote poetic lines on the cards, one of which read: ``Yuko-chan, you are a good girl/ Always in high spirits/ You eat well, sleep well and play well.'' The account appears in ``Shibai Hitosuji'' (Devoted to acting all my life), a book published by Iwanami Shoten.

Another card read: ``I saw a shooting star/ In the dark night sky/ And I remembered that/ Yuko loved a song about a star.''

 「いつもげんきな いうこちやん よくたべよくねて よくあそぶ」。秋山ちえ子さんが島田さんから聞き書きをした時、長女林右子(ゆうこ)さんが見せた島田さん手書きのカルタの1枚である(『芝居ひとすじ』岩波書店)。「くらいみそらの ながれぼし いうこのすきな ほしのうた」

Shimada was a big and bright star. He passed away, trailing a long train.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 28(IHT/Asahi: November 30,2004)

Probe may end mysteries surrounding king

Riddles about Tutankhamen that date back about 3,300 years may be unraveled before long. Researchers are set to scrutinize the mummy of the ancient king of Egypt famous for his golden mask.



Many people are charmed by Tutankhamen's story of riddle and accident. Despite being the king, his name was somehow deleted from various official documents. But the deletions helped to keep his grave from the attention of treasure hunters. When it was discovered in 1922, the excavation turned up an amazing number of ancient artifacts that had been buried with the mummified body of the king.


Tutankhamen's reign almost coincided with an ``incident'' that should have gone down in the history of the world. He ascended the throne just after his predecessor, Akhnaten, carried out religious reform to make Egyptians adopt the Sun God as their only god. It is said to have been the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. Tutankhamen, said to have been Akhanaten's son, died when he was about 18 years old.


Bob Brier, an American Egyptologist, offers an account of the young king's tragic life in ``The Murder of Tutankhamen.'' The story rests on conjecture, and imagination is necessary to fill the gaps. There is a passage that goes to this effect: ``It has taken me a long time to notice the king's attractive personal character. This is because Tutankhamen was synonymous with treasure in my head. But the present investigation has changed me. In time, I have come to feel a strong affinity toward this young man.'' (A Japanese translation has been published by Hara Shobo under the title ``Dare-ga Tutankhamen-wo Koroshita-ka,'' or ``Who killed Tutankhamen?'')


Akhnaten's death touched off a strong backlash against his religious reform. His opponents did not allow the monotheistic religion to linger and it was abolished with the king's death. The succession to the throne was marred by confusion and a power struggle, and Tutankhamen found himself in the middle of it. Brier thinks the young king's involvement in the power struggle cost his life by provoking someone to send assassins.


A joint research team from Egypt and the United States reportedly plans to conduct X-ray and DNA checks in its scrutiny of the Tutankhamen mummy. People are waiting to see how far the team will go in ferreting out stories and historical facts concealed behind the king's golden mask.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 22(IHT/Asahi: November 29,2004)

Wintry gusts chaperon the Days of the Rooster

A haiku by Hakyo Ishida goes: ``It's the Ni-no-Tori festival/ More and more trees are shedding their dead leaves/ In Soshigaya.'' This year's Ni-no-Tori festival was held recently, and Tokyo had its first wintry gusts of autumn. Fallen leaves swirled not only in the woody Soshigaya district, but all over town.


 〈二の酉やいよいよ枯るる雑司ケ谷 石田波郷〉。先日の二の酉(とり)の頃、東京では木枯らし1号が吹いた。樹木の多い雑司ケ谷に限らず、街中で、さかんに枯れ葉が舞う。

In central Tokyo's Hibiya Park, zelkova and gingko trees in Kyodo no Mori (hometown forest) were shedding their leaves profusely. The inner-city forest is home to trees from all over the country. A tree from each of Japan's major cities and all of its prefectures have been planted there. A ryukyuu matsu (Ryukyu pine) represents Okinawa. There is also a spruce from Hokkaido.


A busy trunk road runs through the government office district that adjoins the park, choking the trees with exhaust fumes. It must be tough for the trees to live in this alien environment that affords neither the clean air nor the climate of their places of origin. Aomori's hinoki cypress is said to have died last year.


Thinking of the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake, I looked especially for the tree representing Niigata Prefecture and found a 2-meter-tall snow camellia. The leaves were a glossy dark green and looked healthy. In the foliage were perhaps more than 100 buds the size of my fingertip. In the snow country, camellias are a harbinger of spring. Leaves of the zelkova from neighboring Fukushima Prefecture fell gently on the Niigata tree.


A haiku by Masaoka Shiki goes: ``It gets kind of lonesome/ Around the San-no-Tori.'' According to tradition, any year in which the Day of the Rooster recurs three times in November is said to have more fires than any other. This year, the San-no-Tori (third Day of the Rooster) is on Nov. 26. The autumn streets will be filled with people bringing home their kumade good luck rakes from the Tori-no-Ichi festival.

The mercury should soon start dipping in line with the arrival of winter. After this year's brutal summer, I am worried about what the season may bring.

 〈世の中も淋しくなりぬ三の酉 子規〉。三の酉まである年は火事が多いなどともいうが、今日が三の酉である。枯れ葉の街に、熊手が行き交うことだろう。これからは気温が下がり、冬の気配が感じられるようになるはずだが、夏の力が異様に強かったのが気がかりだ。

Mantaro Kubota's ``San-no-Tori,'' published by Kodansha, is a short story that brings out the subtle differences in emotion between a man and a woman through their casual banter.

``Shall we go together next year?'' asks the man. ``Where?'' the woman says. ``The town of the Tori-no-Ichi festival,'' the man replies.

But the woman dies before the festival. The story ends with this haiku: ``High in the sky/ pitiful is the moon/ on the night of the San-no-Tori.''

 ――来年は、一つ、一しょに行こうか。――どこへ? ――酉のまちへさ……。軽妙な会話に乗せて男女の機微を描いた久保田万太郎の短編「三の酉」(講談社文芸文庫)の一節である。しかし、女は翌年の酉の市が来るのを待たずに他界する。末尾に、一句が置かれている。たかだかとあはれは三の酉の月。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 26(IHT/Asahi: November 27,2004)

Tragedy of war keeps cheapening human life

In video footage taken by Kevin Sites, a freelance war reporter embedded with a Marine unit in Fallujah, an American soldier shoots an Iraqi, shouting, ``He's (expletive) faking dead-he's faking he's (expletive) dead.''

The Iraqi had been disarmed and treated for his wounds the day before by a different Marine unit.



Investigating the incident, the Marines explained that guerrillas sometimes wrap bombs around their bodies and play dead to lure and attack enemy soldiers.

In battle, to be sure, unthinkable things do happen. As for this particular Iraqi, however, Sites notes in his Web blog, ``Aside from breathing, I did not observe any movement at all.''


Shohei Ooka, a novelist and critic, says in his book ``Horyoki'' (A POW's note) that while he was on the Filipino island of Mindoro during the Pacific War, he sighted an American soldier but did not shoot him.

``I do not believe it was any love of humanity that stopped me from shooting him. What I do believe is that when I saw that young soldier, I felt an attachment to him for reasons that were purely personal, and I just did not feel like shooting him.''


The book has a subtitle that is actually a line from the holy priest Shinran's teachings in ``Tannisho'': ``It is not because my heart is pure that I do not kill.''

According to Yoshimitsu Kasahara, a scholar of the history of religious thought, what Ooka wanted to say was that his conscience had no part in his decision not to kill the American soldier.

Kasahara observes in his book ``Heieki Kyohi'' (Refusing military service) published by Seikyusha: ``The significance of this novel (by Ooka) lies in the fact that it tells you how little something like conscience or love of humanity means on a battlefield.''


I recently read a newspaper article about an American soldier who fled to Canada because he refused to be shipped out to Iraq. He had enlisted three years ago, but could never get used to being trained to kill. ``So long as I recognize the other person as a human being, I just can't kill.''


As if to keep driving people to their limits and cheapen life, tragedies of war continue.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 25(IHT/Asahi: November 26,2004)

Life is tough with `dear leader' always around

One outstanding aspect of Josef Stalin's character was that trusting anyone was simply inconceivable for the Soviet dictator. He was gifted with an exceptional ability to conceal his thoughts not just from the enemy but also from those loyal to himself.

Not knowing what he wanted, aides trembled with fear as they followed his orders. Those who bungled something or were perceived to have bungled were ruthlessly imprisoned or executed.



Adolf Hitler was a different kind of dictator in many ways. To give just an example, he trusted his loyal aides, whereas these were the people Stalin was most suspicious of.


The Nazi dictator consolidated his power by making rabble-rousing speeches. Stalin had no need for such talent. He could get his way by addressing closed-door meetings of Communist Party cadres or manipulating a small group of top-level officials. His instinct was to shun direct contact with people. Still, he needed to make sure that the public would see him as the legitimate successor to Vladimir Lenin.


The coining of Stalin medals and the production of the dictator's portraits began around 1933. Soon, Stalin's portraits were put up on walls everywhere in the Soviet Union--at schools, public offices, factories, mines and collective farms, Alan Bullock says in his book ``Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives.'' (A Japanese translation has been published by Soshisha.) On important memorial days, Bullock goes on to say, exaggerated tributes were invariably paid to ``Our Most Beloved Leader.''


The book shows that the ubiquity of portraits was needed even by the reclusive dictator. This reminds me of a lesson history holds out: Life is almost always hard for people in a country where the face of its leader is on view everywhere.


Some of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's portraits have reportedly been removed. Is this a move inspired by the lessons of world history?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 24(IHT/Asahi: November 25,2004)

Carnations tokens of a survivor's resilience

Man Arai, a novelist born in Niigata Prefecture, sent 1,000 carnations as well as a monetary donation to survivors of the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake. I would guess that flowers are not exactly everyone's idea of the perfect gift in a situation like this.



Arai got his idea from something he learned in 1995 in the immediate aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Arai knew someone who had brought to survivors as many bottles of water as he could gather. He also brought along tulips.

Most survivors accepted the bottled water without much emotion, but their faces changed when they saw the tulips. Some smiled. Others wept. Their reactions came in many forms.


``For those people, I think the tulips represented life,'' Arai recalled. Quake survivors invariably have thoughts about those who have died in addition to themselves. Some people become depressed.

``When you are going through such a dire situation,'' Arai continued, ``seeing the life in a fragile little flower can be deeply moving. Some people may well recover their hope for life (after receiving a flower). I would be happy if my carnations could bring about something like that.''


Arai was a third-year senior high school student when the Niigata Earthquake of 1964 struck. In his classroom, red and white chalk flew in the air, shards of glass showered from the windows and soon, the entire school building collapsed. The nearby Showa Ohashi bridge over the Shinanogawa river also fell apart. Arai's home was completely destroyed. It was an experience ``I don't want to recall even now,'' he noted.


Shortly after he entered university, he became gravely ill and hovered between life and death.

``I believe my illness was a delayed reaction to the quake, an aftereffect of sorts,'' he said. ``As a survivor, I know things will get tougher for the survivors of the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake after their immediate shock eases and the rest of the world begins to lose interest in their tragedy.''


The carnations he sent were grown in the town of Nanae in Hokkaido. The growers are just starting to recover from the damage wrought by Typhoon No. 18. Arai hoped that the flowers would bring together the hearts of people from two disaster-hit areas.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 23(IHT/Asahi: November 24,2004)

No moss has gathered on `Like a Rolling Stone'

The Japanese proverb about a rolling stone is a direct translation of what people say in English: ``A rolling stone gathers no moss.''

It apparently has two meanings. In one sense, the proverb warns that if you keep changing your dwelling place and your job, you will not gain assets and social status.

The other one is that anything or anyone that keeps on the move never becomes outmoded.


 「転石苔(こけ)を生ぜず」ということわざがある。「転がっている石(rolling stone)には苔が生えない」という英語から来ており、二通りの意味を持つようになったと辞典にある。「転居や転職を重ねていると財産も地位も身につかない」と「常に活動しているものはいつまでも古くならない」

To those who read a recent issue of an American music magazine, it must have seemed like all about such rolling stones.

Bob Dylan's ``Like a Rolling Stone'' was ranked at the top of Rolling Stone magazine's ``500 greatest songs of all time,'' and the Rolling Stones' ``Satisfaction'' was ranked second.

The editors apparently made the choices by personal preference. Both remind one of the 1960s.


``Rolling Stone Fuun Roku'' (An account of Rolling Stone magazine's ups and downs) was published by Hayakawa Shobo.

According to the book, the famous lyrics of three songs were beamed around the world by radio waves in the middle of the 1960s. These lyrics included: ``All the lonely people,'' which came from the Beatles' ``Eleanor Rigby,'' ``How does it feel?'' from Dylan's ``Like a Rolling Stone,'' and ``(I can't get no) satisfaction!'' from the Rolling Stones' ``Satisfaction.''

 この「転石」誌の来歴を描く『ローリング・ストーン風雲録』(早川書房)に、60年代半ば、3曲の最も有名な歌詞が電波に乗って飛び交ったとある。すべての孤独な人々(All the lonely people)。どんな気持ちだい?(How does it feel?)全然満足できないよ!(I can’t get no〈satisfaction〉!)


About 20 years after the end of World War II, a huge mass of the baby boomers was approaching adulthood in the 1960s.

It was an age in which the challenge for young people was whether to accept or revolt against the existing order.

Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones sang about this age, using lyrics and rhythms that resonated deep in the hearts of the young people.


Their songs still do not get outmoded, like a stone that keeps rolling somewhere now.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 20(IHT/Asahi: November 23,2004)

The colorful worlds of Matisse and Picasso

French painter Henri Matisse is said to have repeatedly commented along these lines: ``Paintings should give a kind of sensual pleasure to those who look at them. I draw paintings with the idea of making armchairs that put people at rest in a profound way.''

I had forgotten those words until I recently visited the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo's Ueno district for the ``Henri Matisse: Process and Variation'' exhibition. His words were running through my mind as I toured the show, which runs through Dec. 12.



While I was in Paris, I visited the artist's apartment-cum-studio on the Seine. From the window, I saw sightseeing boats cruising along the river. The famed Notre Dame towered on the other side. A resident at that time said, ``The place was most characteristic of Paris, although I must admit that noise emanating from subway construction nearby was a drawback.''

Matisse captured the same view on a canvas 100 years ago, and the work is on display at the current exhibition.


As I toured the show, I sensed the painter's effort to express the dynamism of life and sensual pleasure from boldly executed portraits of people using the vivid colors that came to characterize his works. For a while, I indulged in the sensual pleasure of the armchair.


A parallel exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Tokyo offers a chance to see the works of Pablo Picasso, who shares with Matisse the honor of having been one of the greatest painters of the 20th century. (The museum is in Tokyo's Koto Ward, and the show also runs through Dec. 12.)

My visit left me intoxicated with a riot of freely and radically executed shapes and explosive colors, as is always the case when I view paintings by Picasso.

The show's theme is ``The Body and Eros,'' which indicates that it is about the high drama between the sexes.

 マチスと共に20世紀美術を代表するピカソの「ピカソ展」も開かれている(東京都現代美術館=江東区 12月12日まで)。いつもながら、奔放で過激な形と色の祝祭に酔いそうである。テーマは「躰(からだ)とエロス」で、男女の激しいドラマが迫ってくる。

What did Matisse and Picasso think of each other?

Before World War II, Western-style painter Riichiro Kawashima put the question to them separately. Speaking of Matisse, Picasso said, ``He is a stylish man and draw beautiful paintings. He is a good man of sense.'' Matisse said of Picasso, ``He is whimsical, and there is no telling what he will do. But he is a man who can understand things where he has to.'' The account appears in Kawashima's book ``Tabibito-no Me'' (The eyes of a traveler), published by Ryuseikaku.


It is 50 years since Matisse's death and 31 years since Picasso's. Thanks to the two exhibitions, I could appreciate the rich fruits of the labor of these artistic giants as I imagined what a conversation between the two might have entailed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 14(IHT/Asahi: November 22,2004)

Where are Japan's deserving lawmakers?

The current Diet building was built in 1936, the year of the so-called 2.26 Incident, a rebellion led by young military officers of the imperial army. Yukio Ozaki, who spent six decades of his life as a Diet member and was revered as ``the champion of constitutional government,'' wrote a tanka that asked: How many generations will it be before this magnificent Diet building is filled with deserving legislators?



This tanka is on display in the Ozaki Memorial Hall of the Parliamentary Museum, which is located at the front of the Diet building. The museum showcases the history of the constitutional government and explains how the Diet is organized and run.


On Wednesday, Kanezo Muraoka, a former Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House, attended a gathering arranged by Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) at the Parliamentary Museum.

Speaking of the political donation scandal in which the LDP's former Hashimoto faction failed to report a 100 million yen donation from the Japan Dentists Federation, the lobbying arm of the Japan Dental Association-for which Muraoka was charged with a violation of the Political Funds Control Law-Muraoka asserted he was ``framed'' and flatly denied all charges.


He told the gathering: ``I want to prove my innocence. The public will not trust politics unless the important issue of `money and politics' is settled.''

But rather than prove his innocence, his spiel only deepened the mystery.

On the matter of money and politics, however, I am fully with Muraoka.

The former head of the LDP faction concerned is former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. He has not even attempted to offer an explanation to the public. This is an anomaly, to say the least. But just as peculiar is the silence of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who, as the LDP president, is responsible for all party affairs. The public's loss of faith in politics may well deepen.


In a draft constitutional revision plan recently revealed by the LDP's Research Commission on the Constitution, there is a section on the enactment of a political party law. The panel says, ``Each political party must fully appreciate its role in parliamentary democracy and devote itself to the healthy development of parliamentary democracy.''

This is axiomatic. Rather than try to rewrite the Constitution, LDP lawmakers should first humbly reflect on their own failure to live up to their role.


Fifty years have passed since Ozaki's death. Has our era produced ``deserving'' lawmakers? It is highly dubious.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 19(IHT/Asahi: November 20,2004)

Clever misnomers fail as `food for the soul'

The Japanese adjective ``tennen'' means ``natural,'' and the word often implies beauty and rare value.

When landslides triggered by the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake formed dams in the Chuetsu region, these were initially referred to as ``tennen damu'' (natural dams) in the sense that they were products of a natural disaster. But people soon started complaining that there was nothing beautiful or precious about such dams, and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport agreed.



For people in the quake-devastated area, obviously the sight is far too horrifying to be ever described by any euphemistic qualifier.

The ministry adopted the alternative term ``kado heisoku''-literally, ``waterway blockage.'' This, however, is an unfamiliar expression that hardly evokes any realistic image of the disaster.

While respecting the feelings of quake survivors, I wonder what would be a better alternative.


Three years from now, ``hoshi taiken katsudo,'' or community service activities, will be compulsory for students at Tokyo metropolitan senior high schools. The Chinese characters in ``hoshi'' denote ``to revere and serve.'' As such, the word traditionally implied a rigid pecking order, by which people were expected to serve their ``superiors''-their lords and masters.

Some people may read an ennobling and beautiful spirit into the concept. Others may dislike it as an incentive for forced servitude. I feel there ought to be a better alternative that does not remind us of a wretched time in history.


The so-called Far East clause has re-emerged in connection with the global transformation of U.S. forces. How to define the Far East is certainly fundamental to any argument concerning the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. That aside, however, some people question the very concept of the Far East as that which is valid only when the map of the world is seen from the West. I agree this is an expression that perpetuates a distorted perception of history.


Asked to define a ``noncombat zone,'' Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi replied, ``Any place where the Self-Defense Forces are at work is a noncombat zone.'' Koizumi later congratulated himself for his ``good answer.''

I say it was rhetorical rubbish. It makes me want to quote Socrates, who denounced the Sophists for engaging in idle argumentation and peddling out ``food for the soul.'' Self-praise was also their telltale habit, and Socrates warned of its danger.


Some words inspire and guide people. Others only perplex and lead people astray.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 13(IHT/Asahi: November 19,2004)

The sad loss of a `dove surrounded by hawks'

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger famously quipped: ``There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.'' An observation like this could have been made only by someone who spent his term as America's top diplomat trotting around the world to mediate regional conflicts.



Numerous memorable remarks left by Colin Powell, the departing secretary of state, are of a different kind. What makes them quotable is that they ring true for everyone. For example, the first of ``Powell's Rules'' says: ``It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.''


Obviously, Powell does not mean that the situation will improve while you are asleep. What he means is that the world will look different when you wake up with a clear head in the morning. You have the strength to face up to what seemed an insurmountable difficulty the previous night. So you have to take him as counseling optimism in the face of difficult circumstances.


Kissinger hit the mark when he said: ``The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.'' This statement reflects his detached analysis of contemporary warfare as a specialist of international politics.

Powell was convinced that the United States must not take any military action without a clear objective that would only result in squandering the courage of men and their lives. One may see his military career in this crisp way of expressing his belief.


Unfortunately, it seems that within the Bush administration, Powell has not been given the freedom to operate as a hustling secretary of state like Kissinger. He believed in working with allies.

While most of the allies valued his multilateral approach, he was viewed sympathetically as ``a dove surrounded by hawks.'' Some of his critics said there was a limit to his getting his way as he had ``the reputation of the `dutiful soldier' who carried out the president's orders even when disagreeing,'' as a British newspaper put it.


Writing in an American paper, Kissinger warned the Bush administration about its second-term policies as a Republican supporter and said: ``Unilateralism for its own sake is self-defeating.''

We cannot say to that country: ``Go ahead as you please. Take the path of self-destruction.''

So the question is how to apply the brakes on the Bush administration after Powell's departure.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 17(IHT/Asahi: November 18,2004)

A day frozen in time for the Yokota family

On Nov. 15, 1977, many people must have watched the final games of the women's volleyball World Cup on television. Japan beat South Korea. I imagine the topic of family conversation in some households was how good it was that Japan could still do so well in this sport.



Also on that day, the Diet debated on a wining-and-dining scam, in which officials of an offshoot organ of the then-Construction Ministry were found to have been lavishly entertaining members of the Board of Audit. The yen registered a record high of 245 yen against the U.S. dollar. A vegetable glut from continued fine weather caused the prices of vegetables to plummet, much to the distress of farmers.

For classical music fans, probably the most exciting highlight of that day was that Herbert von Karajan was in Japan to conduct a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. On the streets, the popular hit song ``Tsugaru Kaikyo Fuyugeshiki'' (Winter scene on the Tsugaru Strait) was heard everywhere.


A little after 8 a.m. that day, Sakie Yokota told her daughter, Megumi, ``Perhaps you should wear your winter coat today.'' The first-year junior high school girl seemed uncertain whether she should follow her mother's advice, but replied firmly, ``I think I'm OK without it. See you later.'' And she headed for her school. The day's lowest temperature in the city of Niigata was 7.6 degrees.


It was just an ordinary morning. The day passed without any incident, and under normal circumstances, the Yokota family would have forgotten the day eventually.

But Megumi did not come home. For the Yokotas, it became the day they would never be able to forget. It was the day time stood still forever-or so the Yokotas must have felt since.


On that day, exactly 27 years later, Japanese government representatives returned to Tokyo with ``materials'' concerning missing abductees, having completed their working-level talks with their North Korean counterparts in Pyongyang. Among the materials brought back are ashes that are said to Megumi's.

I pray fervently that this is not true. But all the same, what a cruel day it was.


Nothing can be done to retrieve the months and years that have remained frozen in time since the day of the abduction. But everything must be done to bring back people and items that can still be brought back.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 16(IHT/Asahi: November 17,2004)

After quake, snow season comes to Niigata

Ryotaro Shiba began his historical novel ``Toge'' (Mountain pass) in this way: ``Snow is coming. The snow season is just around the corner. In about 10 days, winter clouds will come from over the north sea and bury the fields and mountains of Nagaoka in Echigo province (present-day Niigata Prefecture) under banks of snow.''

He went on to describe how people scrambled to prepare for the onset of snowfall in Nagaoka. It was then the domain of the feudal lord of the Nagaoka clan. (The novel is included in Shiba's complete works, published by Bungei Shunju.)



The approaching snow season is now even more a source of concern for the quake-stricken areas in Niigata. I really hope reconstruction efforts are sped up to meet the new threat.

Meanwhile, it is comforting to hear some experts say that the violently jolted houses ended up less damaged than what one might have expected for an earthquake that registered an upper 6 on an intensity scale of 7.


The destroyed houses are really painful to see. But the temblor left fewer destroyed and partially damaged homes than previous quakes that have occurred inland, as opposed to those centered in the sea, and registered intensities of upper 6.

One explanation offered by experts is the local tradition to prepare for heavy snow. They speculate that the use of thick pillars and light tin roofs to withstand the weight of snow saved houses from the earthquake's shocks.

One might say the wisdom and tradition, born of the necessity of living in snow country, served to lessen damage from the temblor.


The protagonist of the novel ``Toge'' is Kawai Tsugunosuke, chief executive of the Nagaoka fief toward the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867).

As government forces are sweeping through the country, he makes an all-out effort to avoid war. The feudal lord he serves writes a letter imploring peace.

Kawai takes it with him when he meets the commander of the enemy forces that have arrived in Nagaoka. But the commander rejects the lord's plea, and the talks break down.


The Niigata edition of The Asahi Shimbun has carried an article about quake damage sustained by the Jigenji temple in Ojiya where the famous talks took place. The room where Kawai met the commander is called Kaiken-no Ma (Meeting room) and was designated by city hall as a municipal and cultural landmark. The wall of the room crumbled in the quake, and its floor also collapsed onto the foundation.

The deputy priest of the temple was quoted as saying, ``We will do our utmost to restore the room to induce people who have been impressed by the novel `Toge' to come here once again.''


The earthquake in central Niigata Prefecture not only badly upset people's lives but it also shook up important records and memories that had been handed down from generation to generation.

The imminent arrival of the severe season makes me hope that more attention will be paid to what supports the mental health of quake survivors to help them tide over the heavy snow.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 15(IHT/Asahi: November 16,2004)

Novelist bequeathes evidence of fatherly love

Novelist Mori Ogai (1862-1922) named his children after European given names, devising fitting combinations of Chinese characters to match their sounds. The model names he adopted were Otto, Marie, Fritz, Anne and Louis. In Japanese, they are Oto, Mari, Furitsu and Annu, respectively.



An abundance of materials showing how Ogai, one of the literary giants of modern Japan, was a loving father has been found, including illustrated letters he sent home from Nara. He begins one letter by saying ``kodomo mina-ni'' (to all of my children). Annu Kobori, the late essayist and the novelist's second daughter, is said to have kept these items at her home.


Annu's book, ``Bannen-no Chichi'' (My father in his last years), is her recollection of the novelist. She writes in the Iwanami Bunko paperback: ``When I leaned against my father's back, I smelled a nostalgic aroma, a mix of cigar smoke and dandruff, from his thick neck. ... He called me `Annu, Annu.' He often added on the diminutive `ko' for endearment perhaps, and playfully called me `Annu-ko, Annu-ko.'''


The recollection of oldest daughter Mari was equally adoring. In ``Chichi-no Boshi'' (My father's hat), a Kodansha Bungei Bunko paperback, she writes: ``He was a wonderfully affectionate father not only to me but to my siblings. The way he expressed his love was more than perfect, almost extraordinary.''

She goes on to say that, to her memory, ``A look of displeasure never crossed his face, and I never glimpsed the soul of a despicable man there.''


The Ogai Memorial Hongo Library, instituted by Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward, now stands where the novelist lived, and an exhibition is now under way until Dec. 15. It features the letters exchanged between Ogai and Natsume Soseki, two literary giants of the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

I was particularly intrigued to see a book handbound by Ogai in the traditional fashion. Ogai cut out Soseki's works from magazines, put the pages together, and gave the book to his children.


The handmade book turned up among the items kept by Annu. She recalled that her father had big, bony hands. As I looked at the display, it seemed to me that this book, made by such hands, conveyed the heartfelt wishes of Mori Rintaro (Ogai's real name) as a father.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 7(IHT/Asahi: November 15,2004)

Phoenix gone, but glimmer of hope remains

A reporter once asked Yasser Arafat: ``Sir, you have survived many close brushes with death. What's your secret?'' The Palestinian leader answered there was no secret, except for his uncanny instinct for sensing imminent danger. He cited one example.



``There was a joint conference of Palestinian and Lebanese leaders in Beirut,'' Arafat recalled. ``The moment I entered the conference hall, I told everyone to get out immediately. ... Five minutes later, the place was bombed by Israeli fighter planes.'' This comment was aired on a Nippon Television Network Corp. program titled ``Paresuchina 50-nen no Higan'' (Palestine's long-cherished dream of 50 years).


Arafat died, having led his people for decades as the symbol of Palestine. It was said he slept only three hours a day. He was nicknamed the Phoenix of the Middle East, but there was no resurrection this time.


He visited the United States in 1993 to sign the historic peace treaty with Israel. Asked during a news conference whether he should change from his military uniform to a suit and tie to befit his new role as a leader of peace, he replied, ``I am not a chameleon.'' It turned out that the subsequent path he chose did not lead even close to peace.


Arafat then quoted lines from an Arabic poem: ``I console my heart with hope/ How difficult it is to live/ Without this glimmer of hope.''

 ――あなたにとって希望とは何ですか? 彼は「一日として希望を失ったことはありません」と言い、アラビア語の詩を引いた。私は心を期待で慰める/生きることはいかに困難であろうか/この一縷(いちる)の望みなくして。

For forging the peace treaty, Arafat shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with then-Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. I heard Peres say after he became prime minister, ``We have started rowing into a lake of peacemaking, and we are now just halfway to burn out. We must keep rowing to transform every sacrifice into hope.''

I pray the glimmer of hope will be carried into the future.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 12(IHT/Asahi: November 13,2004)

How will Fallujah 2004 go down in history?

Including the sensational ``300 million-yen robbery'' in Japan, 1968 was an eventful year around the world.

For the United States, it was the year civil rights leader Martin Luther King and presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy were assassinated.

In Europe, Soviet and East European forces invaded Czechoslovakia, and French students rose up in the so-called May Revolt.



In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive changed the course of the war that had turned into a quagmire. North Vietnamese forces and the National Liberation Front mounted a unified offensive and seized control of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon for some hours.


In his 1971 classic ``Tet!: The Turning Point in the Vietnam War,'' then-Washington Post war correspondent Don Oberdorfer recalls that the offensive came as a total shock to Americans who believed their nation's victory was imminent.

Positioning the Tet Offensive as one of the most significant events of the era, Oberdorfer notes to the effect that its significance was not that it brought change to the situation unfolding in South Vietnam, but rather how it influenced the minds of Americans more than 10,000 miles away from Vietnam. (The book has been translated into Japanese and published by Soshisha under the title of ``Teto Kosei,'' or Tet Offensive.)


In the ancient city of Hue, a bloody street war raged for about a month between U.S. forces and the National Liberation Front that had captured the city.

Hue reappeared in news headlines recently.

Prepping his men for battle in Fallujah, a Marine commander told his troops: ``You're all in the process of making history. ... This is another Hue city in the making.''


In his book, Oberdorfer quotes lyrics written by Trinh Cong Son, a Vietnamese songwriter who wrote anti-war songs during the Vietnam War and was dubbed ``Vietnam's Bob Dylan.''

``Ballad to the Dead (Hue 1968),'' includes these lines: ``The bodies of the dead lie all around, in those cold rains/Alongside the bodies of the old and weak/ Lie the bodies of the young and innocent/ Which body is the body of my little sister?''

 戦争中に反戦歌を作り、ベトナムのボブ・ディランと呼ばれたチン・コン・ソンの詩が『テト攻勢』に載っている。「老人と弱い者のむくろのかたわらに/若者と幼児のむくろが横たわる/どれが私の妹のむくろなのか?」。最後に「フエ 1968年」とある。

I wonder how the song ``Fallujah 2004'' will go.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2004)

Where does support for Bush come from?

Popular American novelist Tom Wolfe once mockingly described the United States as a country too powerful for its own good, unable to stop itself. He called the country a blooming young rustic who is given to partying and acts on instinct, according to ``From Bauhaus to Our House.'' (Its Japanese translation is published by Shobunsha.)



Wolfe, a New Yorker, caused something of a stir when he announced his support for President George W. Bush to a British newspaper just before the Nov. 2 presidential election.

An amazed staff member of the Guardian wrote: ``Where does it come from, this endorsement of the most conservative administration within living memory? Of this president who champions the right and the rich, who has taken America into the mire of war, and seeks re-election tomorrow?''


We have taken it for granted that most of New York's writers and intellectuals are voters against Bush.

Wolfe said the Bush re-election campaign was supported by people ``not wanting to be led by East Coast pretensions.'' He went on to say, ``Support for Bush is about resentment in the so-called `red states,''' adding, ``I come from one of those states, Virginia.'' In this way, he expressed solidarity with fellow Americans living in the South and the Midwest.


A map showing the outcome of the election in colors tells it all. The blue states won by Senator John Kerry are lopsided to the Northeast and the West Coast. The red states taken by Bush make up a splash across the rest of the country. The picture reminds me of the observations by some people that New York is not America and that the Midwest and the South constitute the heartland of the United States.


If the map shows the geographical division of America, the presidential campaign appeared to offer an insight into the psychological depths of Americans.

Core supporters of Bush were people opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion for reasons of religious faith. I remember reading a newspaper column in which the contentiousness of the race was referred to as ``civil war.''


Wolfe's new novel is about college-campus sex. He says it will be shunned by conservatives. Despite his support for Bush, he is critical of the invasion of Iraq. The same warp marks the attitudes of Americans in general.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 6(IHT/Asahi: November 11,2004)

U.S. `shooting horses to scare flies' in Iraq

Sheikh Ghazi Al-Yawar, Iraq's interim president, reportedly disagreed bitterly with the decision of the U.S.-led coalition to bring Fallujah down by force. He was quoted as likening the use of armed force to ``shooting a horse to scare a fly on it.''

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was reported to have sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush and others, urging them not to make the assault.



Undeterred, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers stormed into Fallujah on Monday and seized control of the city's main hospital and key bridges over the Euphrates. This is the same hospital that reported last month that U.S. airstrikes had killed only innocent civilians.

CNN reported, ``U.S. military officials said the hospital needed to be secured so hospital workers could attend to casualties without facing intimidation by insurgents, and to end its use as a source of anti-U.S. propaganda.''

The tactic, I assume, was to silence dissent and then mount a full-scale assault.


I understand that 500-pound bombs have been dropped on Fallujah. The news reminded me of the 500 pounders dropped from B-29s in the Pacific War. One major difference between Americans and Japanese is the latter know what it is like to be on the receiving end of an air attack.


Granted, there are not many Japanese left now who have actually experienced air raids. But there are plenty of sites where tremendous bomb blasts ripped lives apart. Even if the visual signs of devastation are no longer there, people can still imagine what happened.


The United States and others reportedly brushed aside Annan's letter as an example of meddling in someone else's affairs. But then, what do you call the American and British invasion of Iraq? It was definitely not an act of meddling by word or letter. It was an act that has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 10,000 or more Iraqi people, not to mention numerous instances of horrendous abuse.


``The slated general elections in Iraq are drawing near, but the nation's unwanted elements have yet to go away. If they can be crushed by force, let's go ahead and do that.''

If the above is a correct paraphrase of what the U.S. and British governments are thinking and doing, how could anyone not want to meddle in their affairs?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 9(IHT/Asahi: November 10,2004)

Good looks mask deadliness of mushrooms

In an essay, poet Toshio Mae once wrote: ``When you find a mushroom, you feel as if you have discovered something secretly buried. Besides, a mushroom in your hand somehow makes you feel as if you have traveled back to a time long past.'' He wrote of his frame of mind when he was returning from a mountain hunt for mushrooms. The essay is titled ``Tsukiyodake'' (a mushroom glowing in the moonlight).



It seems as if finding a mushroom gave him the excitement of having come across a treasure.

Mushrooms are certainly tasty to eat, but they carry the risk of poisoning you if you pick the wrong one. The most poisonous variety, doku tsurutake, is called ``destroying angel'' in English. Its lily-white, elegant appearance is quite deceptive. Should someone eat it, the mushroom causes symptoms resembling those of cholera. The death rate is said to be 70 percent. The English name is truly apt for the variety whose angelic appearance masks its deadliness.


What books of reference say of sugi hiratake, a white and pretty mushroom, is all favorable, some crediting it with ``a plain and pleasant taste.'' Others describe its taste as ``appetizing in a simple way, despite the variety's minimally appetizing aroma.'' Recent events make me wonder if this variety has transformed itself into a poisonous mushroom.


People with kidney trouble have died of acute brain disorder in succession. For most of these people, death came after eating sugi hiratake, a mushroom of choice in the Tohoku (northeastern) region and the Hokuriku district on the Sea of Japan. Whether there was a precise cause-and-effect relationship between the deaths and the mushroom is a mystery that has yet to be unraveled.


As usual, many other people have suffered from mushroom poisoning this fall, though not to the point of dying. In most cases, the agent was a mushroom, called tsukiyodake, that emits blue-white light in the dark. The symptoms include nausea and stomachache. Some victims say everything they saw seemed blue-white. In one extreme case, the victims felt as if fireflies were flying about in front of their eyes.


There is still very much to be learned about mushrooms. A poem by Fumi Saito goes: ``I can imagine giant flying squirrels/ Leaving their nests, anxious to meet/ Tsukiyodake that glows at night.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 8(IHT/Asahi: November 9,2004)

Let's grow more rice to ease starvation

A haiku by Tatsuko Hoshino goes: ``The ears felt weighty enough/ When I took hold of a handful of stalks/ That sprang back with a rustle when I released them.''

Come autumn, it is important for us to see rice stalks bending under the weight of the plants' ears because it is a sign of a bumper harvest.

The sight serves as a reminder of the great potential that those tiny rice seeds sown in spring embodied. Besides, on a fine day, the waves of drooping ears swaying in the wind make a golden spectacle.


 〈手にうけし垂穂やかさと手をはなれ 星野立子〉。秋の田に頭(こうべ)を垂れる稲穂は、小さな種もみが秘めていた力の大きさを思わせる。揺れる穂波は、降り注ぐ日差しを、やわらかな金色のさざ波に変える。

I felt quite reassured by the sight of ears hanging low when I took a walk along a stretch of rice fields in the Kinki region. (The area includes Kyoto, Osaka and Nara prefectures.)


The United Nations has designated this year as the International Year of Rice. This is the first time that the organization has dedicated a year to a single farm product.

The theme of this year's campaign is ``Rice is life.''

Rice is a staple food for more than half of the world's population. Citing population growth and other reasons, experts say demand for rice will hugely outrun production in the future.


As part of activities marking the International Year of Rice, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization held a competition of theses that have contributed to global research on rice.

In the new plant variety development category, a treatise on the base sequence and structure of rice's first chromosome, chiefly written by a research team from Japan's National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, was chosen for the highest award.

The chromosome in question is the largest one in rice, and the research team accurately deciphered how its components, called bases, were arranged and structured. The team's findings will provide basic information for developing better rice varieties and increasing production.


By the way, Oct. 16 was World Food Day, which commemorates the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization in 1945.

Photographs and other items detailing food supply situations around the world were put on display at a Global School Feeding Exhibition held at the U.N. University gallery in Tokyo's Shibuya district.

There was a large world map showing the areas that are plagued by starvation. A note on the map said a child dies every five minutes of starvation or a related illness.


The note illustrated the grave consequences of inequitable global food distribution. I also took it as suggesting that Japan was in an excellent position to help starving people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17(IHT/Asahi: November 8,2004)

New faces on cash were picture of poverty

There are posters around town proclaiming the issuance of new bank notes. The copy reads: ``These are Japan's new faces.''

When none came my way after a few days for waiting around for them, I decided I had to go out and get them myself. I queued up before a bank change machine that was said to be dispensing these notes, and finally met the new faces.



Higuchi Ichiyo (1872-1896) on the 5,000 yen note has her characteristically clear features, but her image is somewhat different from the impression I have formed of her from other pictures. Perhaps because of her youth and the absence of wrinkles, her face looks a bit plain.

On the other hand, Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928) on the 1,000 yen note is exactly as I have seen him elsewhere. His strong, steady gaze suggests his forceful personality.


Neither Higuchi nor Noguchi ever carried a fat wallet. ``Noguchi Hideyo,'' a biography published as an Asahi Sensho paperback, contains a letter he wrote to an old friend in his native Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, begging for 10 yen:

``Like with anyone else who has just started practising medicine, I need money desperately and am really stuck without it. If you would be so generous as to accept me as your prodigal brother and send me the money ...''


Noguchi's original given name was Seisaku. He changed it to Hideyo after reading Tsubouchi Shoyo's ``Tosei Shosei Katagi,'' a novel in which a character named Seisaku Nonoguchi, a medical student and out-of-towner, engages in debauchery.

Because this novel was widely read, Noguchi was terrified that people might mistake him for the model.


Noguchi eventually went to the United States, where he worked hard at the Rockefeller Institute (now Rockefeller University).

His biography notes: ``After half his life of borrowing money he never repaid, he finally found a sponsor with a bottomless pocket-Rockefeller.''


It has been 100 years since Noguchi became an assistant at the Rockefeller Institute.

In the United States, the incumbent president has just squeaked through to re-election. ``America's face'' remains unchanged.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 5(IHT/Asahi: November 6,2004)

Did Americans' votes actually register?

Half a century ago, the editor-in-chief of a small local newspaper in America tried an experiment. He asked more than 100 people to sign a petition. Only one person signed. Everyone else balked at it, saying the petition was ``too anti-government.'' These people did not realize that the petition was actually a passage from the American Declaration of Independence.



Karel van Wolferen, author of the critically acclaimed ``The Enigma of Japanese Power,'' mentions this episode in ``Sekai-no Asu-ga Kessuru Hi'' (``The Day When the Future of the World Will Be Decided''), his latest book from Kadokawa Shoten that hit the shelves just before the U.S. presidential election.

Voicing his apprehension for President George W. Bush's re-election, van Wolferen points out that ``the ignorance of Americans could destroy America.''


Has the ``future of the world'' been decided?

Four more years of Bush must be a depressing thought for many people around the world. And unless this superpower mends its ways and learns to listen, there is much to worry about the future.


The passage from the Declaration of Independence, used in the petition, goes like this: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.''


Elections must be fair and just if these rights are to be guaranteed.

A pre-election opinion survey by The New York Times found that an overwhelming 80 percent of African-Americans did not believe their votes would be counted properly.


Until we know for sure that balloting and vote-counting were completely above board in the extremely close election, the future of the world cannot be decided.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 4(IHT/Asahi: November 5,2004)

Koizumi too optimistic on SDF mission in Iraq

One of the works of 17th-century French painter Nicholas Poussin depicts shepherds in Arcadia. This place in ancient Greece has been thought to be another name for an idyllic paradise or a utopia. A Japanese equivalent is rakutenchi, a word that literally denotes a place where people can live, as in Paradise.



Only one step away from rakutenchi is the name of Rakuten Inc., an Internet mall operator that has been authorized to set up a new professional baseball team that will join the Pacific League.

The question is whether the selection of Rakuten over its rival applicant, Livedoor Co., was made in a fair manner.

The matter needs to be clarified by the Nippon Professional Baseball officials who made the choice. The media have an obligation to confirm if what they say is true.

In the meantime, I would like to keep an optimistic (rakuten-teki in Japanese) watch on developments. After all, apart from the question of fairness, the decision to let in a new team is concrete evidence that pro baseball players and fans succeeded in pushing the self-righteous club owners into action.


Mori Ogai (1862-1922), one of the literary giants of modern Japan, used the word rakuten-kan, to coin a phrase meaning ``optimistic outlook,'' in a short story titled ``Fujidana'' (Wisteria trellis). A passage in which the word appears reads: ``Some people think they can get along while enjoying unlimited freedom.... Their outlook on life seems to be too optimistic.'' (The novel is contained in the complete works of modern Japanese literature, published by Chikuma Shobo.)


A statement by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi about the safety of members of the Ground Self-Defense Force stationed in Iraq struck me as going too far in such optimism.

He said, ``When the governor of Muthanna province came, he said the security situation was stable. And I have been told that the GSDF activities in Samawah are heartily welcomed by local residents.''


A rocket shell fired into the GSDF camp in Samawah pierced a steel container. Even though the container was for storage purposes, it was presumably in an area readily accessible by troops when they needed something. So, some GSDF members could have been injured, and the risk remains in the days ahead.

It is not yet clear how much the beheading of captive Shosei Koda had to do with the GSDF presence in Samawah. But it was the GSDF presence that invited the shelling.


It is not likely that when the government dispatched troops to Iraq, it anticipated that dangers would mount to this degree.

The government should come up with an honest explanation about the gap between its original assumption and the reality. Something must also be done promptly to relieve the pressure on our troops.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 3(IHT/Asahi: November 4,2004)

Will Powell skedaddle if Bush stays in saddle?

The U.S. presidential race remained a dead heat right into election day on Tuesday. Aside from the obvious question of who will win, I am also wondering what will become of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Within the markedly unilateralist and militaristic administration of President George W. Bush, Powell was sometimes the voice of reason that called for moderation and respect for the international community.



``Plan of Attack'' by Bob Woodward details the steps leading to the U.S. attack on Iraq. The author quotes Powell as telling Bush in August 2002, ``It's going to suck the oxygen out of everything.'' Further, Woodward writes, Powell tells Bush that war could destabilize friendly governments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, and dramatically affect the supply and price of oil. (The book has been published in Japanese from Nihon Keizai Shimbun.)


Woodward goes on to note what Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage privately called the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it.

Applying this rule to Iraq, Powell told the president: ``You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You own it all.''


As a Vietnam veteran, Powell probably understood that war breaks numerous pieces of ``pottery,'' and that each piece represents life.

Two years and three months have passed since Bush listened to Powell's argument and asked, ``What should I do? What else can I do?''

The land Bush supposedly came to ``own'' has turned into a scene of endless carnage.

 戦争が無数の壊れた陶器を生むこと、その一つ一つの陶器に命が宿っていることを、ベトナム戦争従軍で身をもって知ったのかも知れない。この時「どうすればいい? 他になにができる?」と大統領が言ってから2年余がたつ。一手に握ったはずの国では殺戮(さつりく)が続いている。

Even if Bush should be re-elected, there is speculation that Powell might not remain in the administration.

Should this be the case, will there be anyone to apply the brakes to the second-term Bush administration?


There was a time when Powell was rumored to be considering a run for the presidency. His autobiography is titled ``My American Journey.'' One wonders if his ``journey'' on the political stage is about to end.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 2(IHT/Asahi: November 3,2004)

Deeper meaning behind slain captive's words

Shosei Koda pleaded so feebly in the video supplied by his captors that I wanted to ask him why such a man had ventured into Iraq when the situation there was extremely dangerous.

Contrary to my expectations, however, I found myself deeply affected, deep down in my heart, by what he said. The impact of the hesitant words he uttered is still reverberating within me.



Koda first conveyed his captors' demand that the Self-Defense Forces in Iraq be withdrawn. He said his life depended on whether the demand would be met.

``I'm sorry,'' he said. Then, he mumbled, as if talking to himself, ``After this, I want to return to Japan.''

Obviously, the simple observation left a great deal unsaid. I think he realized at that moment what he had been looking for in life.


Another young man comes to mind: the poet Kozo Takeuchi, who died as a soldier 59 years ago. He met his death at 23, a year younger than Koda.

One of his poems says in part: ``Being killed in action is pitiful/ Soldiers getting killed are pitiful/ Death comes to them suddenly/ And in a distant foreign country.'' (From an Iwanami modern library paperback with the title ``Senshi-ya Aware,'' which means death as a soldier in action is pitiful.)

 59年前、香田さんより一つ若く23歳で戦死した青年がいた。「戦死やあわれ/兵隊の死ぬるや あわれ/遠い他国で ひょんと死ぬるや」の詩を残した竹内浩三だ。彼は自分の運命を見通していた。状況はまるで違う。しかし「ながいきをしたい」と書き始める祈りのような詩は、香田さんのつぶやきと共振する(『戦死やあわれ』岩波現代文庫)。

Takeuchi and Koda met death under entirely different circumstances. Takeuchi died in battle, while Koda was beheaded. Nevertheless, it can be said that Takeuchi's prayer-like poems-he started one by expressing his desire for long life-resonate with Koda's mumble.

Koda traveled to New Zealand on a working holiday visa in January this year. He took what may have been a sudden interest in the Middle East. After staying in Israel for a while, he moved to Jordan and then took a bus into Iraq.


Presumably, he made the trip not with a clear end. Rather, it was a trip to look for something clear, probably something ``attesting to the meaningfulness of life,'' which happens to be what his given name in Chinese characters stands for. I believe he came to realize that continuing to live was of value in itself, and that's what made him mumble his desire to return to Japan in the video.


Contrary to his wish, Koda's life was brutally cut short. What his captors did to him was an unforgivable and senseless thing to do.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 1(IHT/Asahi: November 2,2004)

Wisdom and courage saved bus passengers

Nobody would try to graft a piece of bamboo to a tree. It would simply be absurd. Even when two vastly different things can somehow be joined, the result is often disharmonious. The proverbial Japanese phrase ki-ni take-wo tsugu (grafting a bamboo piece to a tree) warns of attempting such a futile exercise.

But when 37 people stranded on the top of a tour bus in a flood during the latest typhoon tied a bamboo pole to a tree, it may not have been entirely futile--even if the crude device did not directly save their lives.



The floodwater unleashed by Typhoon No. 23 forced the group to spend a fearful night on the bus roof after it became submerged along with other vehicles in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture.

A newspaper photograph of the bus showed a curious object. It looked like a pole running between the bus and a nearby tree. It was too thick to be a rope. It was not a steel pipe, either. It was a bamboo pole that had been swept along in the flood.


On that night of Oct. 20, the force of the rapidly flowing water threatened to topple the bus. One of the stranded passengers leapt into the water to get a rope from a vehicle that was submerged nearby. But he failed to make it and was left clinging to a tree. Fortunately, the bamboo pole came drifting by. It was promptly used as a brake, with one end held by the man clinging to the tree and the other by people on the bus.

But it was impossible for anyone to keep holding the pole indefinitely. Another man swam to the tree and tied the pole to it with shoe laces. When the water subsided, the bamboo pole was found hanging from the tree to which it was tied with two shoe laces.


It was a coincidence that this bamboo pole happened to come flowing by. Still, bamboo is something closely associated with Maizuru. The city's bamboo groves are said to be the largest such acreage in Kyoto Prefecture. Local farmers still commonly use bamboo poles to dry harvested rice plants in the sun. So, it seems to me that even though the bamboo pole drifted by accidentally, it had a local flavor.


There is no way we will ever know how effective that bamboo pole tied to a tree with shoelaces was in keeping the bus from toppling over.

But what is commendable is that the stranded passengers put together things they would not have thought of connecting under normal circumstances. The device they hurriedly slapped together could have been the very thing that helped keep them alive.


Even as my heart goes out to quake survivors still suffering in Niigata Prefecture, I believe that the wisdom, courage and fortune of those stranded in Maizuru are worth remembering, together with the single bamboo pole that helped them.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 27(IHT/Asahi: November 1,2004)

A harvest of quotable quotes from October

Shigeyuki Yamamoto, a senior zoo keeper at the Toyama Family Park in Toyama Prefecture, proposed reviving boundaries between bears and humans. ``In the past, satoyama (woodland close to populated areas) kept bears from entering areas of human habitation. But with changes in lifestyle, people stopped tending their woodlands and allowed the rice paddies in the dales to become overgrown with pampas grass. Forests of firewood and charcoal-making trees, bamboo and cedar deteriorated. ... All that is left now to keep bears away from human territory are bushes that border people's backyards.''



Supreme Court Chief Justice Akira Machida said: ``I hear complaints about `flounder judges'--so called because they are like those fish that can only look upward because of the position of their eyes. Such judges are concerned only with what their superiors think or how the higher courts might rule on cases. I should think such judges don't really exist, and I certainly wouldn't welcome them.'' The fish may not like the comparison, but Machida's point of view is clear.


Manager Hiromitsu Ochiai of the Chunichi Dragons is definitely no flounder. A confirmed believer in the power of self-motivation, Ochiai told his players when a baseball strike seemed imminent: ``As baseball union members, you should go for broke in fighting for your rights. I don't care if we don't win the league pennant, nor if the Japan Series is canceled this year. There are more important things in life.''


A record of Europe's dark history surfaced recently in the form of a diary of a young Jewish girl who lived in a death camp in the Nazi-run Netherlands. ``Every day, we stare at freedom from behind barbed wire ... But I must stay strong, for I would be also dead if my happiness and willpower die.''


The present is no less terrible. A Palestinian girl was shot dead on her way to school by an Israeli soldier or the soldier's commanding officer, who is said to have fired a coup de grace on her. The girl's grieving father said: ``My daughter was neither a soldier nor a radical. I just want to ask Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: Why?''


Motoyuki Shibata, a translator and professor at the University of Tokyo said: ``The problem with Americans is they become fixated on the notion that they alone embody the ultimate ideal or justice in the world. And then they try to force everyone else to practice their justice.'' U.S. voters will soon decide who should be at the helm.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 29(IHT/Asahi: October 30,2004) (10/30)

Wee boy outlasted human limits in tragedy

Seventy-two hours is said to be the outer time limit for rescuing someone buried under a building destroyed in an earthquake.

Since a human being can only survive without food and water for that amount of time, the chances of successful rescue plummet when that time passes.



But for little Yuta Minagawa, rescue came 92 hours after the initial tremors hit the Chuetsu region in Niigata Prefecture and triggered a massive landslide along Shinanogawa river. His survival is something of a miracle that defied human limits.


Having been trapped in the mud and boulders for nearly four days, Yuta held tight to his rescuers. He was able to move his head. His legs were pitifully bare, but it was simply incredible that a mere 2-year-old had hung on to life.

The scene reminded me of another I saw the day after the 1985 JAL jumbo jet crash. A 13-year-old junior high school student, who had survived the crash, was being lifted up into a helicopter in the tight hug of a rescue worker.


Three hours after Yuta was airlifted, a hovering helicopter picked up his 39-year-old mother, Takako, who had died. Bright orange beams from light projectors darted in the night.

When the rescue team eventually took a break, the survival of 3-year-old Mayu had yet to be confirmed.


The mixed team of Tokyo and Nagano firefighters, police officers and Self-Defense Forces troops braved large aftershocks in their dangerous and difficult mission. They used an electromagnetic life detection device called Sirius.

When the report came that a human voice could be heard from the buried car, I prayed with all my heart for the safe rescue of all three. But my prayers were not heard.


The cruel reality of what separates life from death tears at my heart. The ripples on Shinanogawa river, glistening white in the floodlight, blurred in my eyes.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 28(IHT/Asahi: October 29,2004) (10/29)

Volunteers proving invaluable in Niigata

A week after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, I was in a helicopter headed for the disaster zone. As soon as the chopper lifted off from Osaka Airport, I could see numerous blue dots below. These were blue tarps covering damaged buildings, and they dotted the landscape as far west as the eye could see.


Click here to find out more!


On Saturday, the Chuetsu region of Niigata Prefecture was devastated by a powerful earthquake. This time, however, I have not seen too many of those blue dots in aerial pictures of some of the hardest-hit areas.

I assumed at first that this was because it was still too soon after the disaster, and that the blue dots-a symbol of the first step toward reconstruction-would appear in time. However, I am not so sure anymore.


An evacuation order has been issued to all Yamakoshi village residents. Road access to and from the village has been completely cut off.

I was pained by the sight of evacuees staring out the windows of a Self-Defense Forces helicopter, watching their village fade in the distance.

``Winter will bring heavy snowfalls. Just thinking about it makes me panicky,'' said one villager. It is only natural that people would feel the same if reconstruction is not likely to begin until next spring.


What are the arrangements for taking care of all those people who had no choice but to leave their village? I just hope there is enough food to go around and that heating is sufficient. If adequate relief is not provided to all the stricken communities, some survivors may well undeservedly suffer further.


How best to mitigate their anxiety and sense of helplessness? There are limits to what individual municipalities and villages can do. The central government must assume responsibility. How to deal with disasters and their victims is also a test for society itself.


In the Hanshin region, I felt the blue dots symbolized the anguished plight of people who were reduced to disconnected dots. However, surrounding each dot were numerous volunteers working hard to restore the broken connection.

This time, too, volunteers will prove invaluable in joining the dots together.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26(IHT/Asahi: October 28,2004) (10/28)

Earthquakes sent villagers back into isolation

Life for residents of Yamakoshi, Niigata Prefecture, used to be especially hard in winter. Snow piled up to 4 meters on the ground, and the mountain village became an isolated community in the middle of nowhere.

Before World War II, residents began digging a tunnel. The work, completed 16 years later in 1949, connected Yamakoshi to the nearest neighboring village by road.

The Nakayama Tunnel is about 900 meters long. Among the tunnels dug by manual labor in Japan, it is said to be the longest.



Yamakoshi owes its postwar transformation to former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. The village was part of Tanaka's electoral district, which gets buried in deep snow in winter. Tanaka upgraded a local road to a national highway and implemented public works projects.

The road representing the footsteps of Tanaka, a local hero, was badly damaged in Saturday's earthquakes. Aerial photographs of Yamakoshi show violently slashed mountainsides and roads in ribbons everywhere.

These pictures raise concerns about the fate of the villagers who are isolated like their predecessors.


Coming on the heels of damage done by torrential rains and typhoons, the series of earthquakes serve as a powerful reminder that the fate of those who live in Japan can often be cruel. The mountains and rivers that make a picturesque landscape can turn on us by unleashing muddy streams and landslides.


Modernism poet Junzaburo Nishiwaki (1894-1982) once wrote in praise of his birthplace, the city of Ojiya near the epicenter: ``Shall I compare this beautiful field/ To a tapestry woven by sunrise and sunset/ From the mountains and rivers I see from here?''

The poet won fame as the author of a collection of poems titled ``Tabibito Kaerazu'' (A traveler who does not return home). But he did return to his hometown when he was dying.

The window of his sickroom commanded a sweeping view of Mount Yamamotoyama and the Shinanogawa river, with three tall mountains known as ``Echigo (Niigata) Sanzan'' in the background.

He passed away as he looked at the scene, according to ``Kaiso-no Nishiwaki Junzaburo,'' a Mita Bungaku Library volume tracing the life of Nishiwaki.

 「山あり河あり、暁と夕陽とが綴れ織る この美しき野」。モダニズムの詩人西脇順三郎はかつて故郷、小千谷市を、そううたった。『旅人かへらず』の詩集が有名な彼だが、死を前にして故郷に帰った。越後三山を背景に、山本山と信濃川を一望する美しい風景を見ながら逝った(『回想の西脇順三郎』三田文学ライブラリー)。

Ojiya was badly damaged by the quakes. Mountainsides crumbled, roads were buried under tons of earth and rocks that slid down the slopes, and houses collapsed. A 77-year-old woman as well as elementary school children, aged 11 and 12, were among those killed. Many other people are still living in shelters.


Nishiwaki liked to quote lines from a poem by Chinese poet Li Bo when he was asked to write something down on a piece of fancy paper:

``When I raised my head (from my bed) to look out the window/ I saw a shining moon on the mountain ridge/ But my head came down involuntarily/ As the moon stirred my nostalgia for my home.''

I urge the authorities to make haste to rescue the quake victims of Nishizaki's beautiful birthplace and to reconstruct it.

 「挙頭望山月 低頭思故郷」。西脇が好んで色紙にしたのが、李白の詩だという。美しい故郷の人々の救助と復興とが急がれる。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 25(IHT/Asahi: October 27,2004) (10/27)

Helping hands keep quake damage in check

``It is a big earthquake. This building is swaying wildly,'' an announcer repeated at a TV station in Niigata Prefecture. Watching the screen, I could see the set and its equipment swaying badly at the station, as described by the announcer.

In Tokyo, we felt the first thudding minor tremors dozens of seconds later, and then big and lengthy horizontal sways followed suit.



A news ticker appeared at the bottom of the TV screen, reporting that the earthquake had registered an intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese scale of 7. Reading that, I recalled images from the Niigata Earthquake of 40 years ago, one of the most disastrous quakes that have hit Japan since the end of World War II.

I especially remember the billows of black smoke filling the sky and the long bridge that snapped and fell into the Shinanogawa river, a major waterway in Niigata.

Later Saturday, I learned that the the epicenter was close to Ojiya, an interior city located away from the Sea of Japan, and that there were three strong tremors that registered an intensity of upper 6.

I worried that the houses and precarious slopes that had withstood the first tremor might have given in to the following tremors at one sweep.


The news that the bullet train Toki jumped the tracks of the Joetsu Shinkansen Line struck me as unbelievable for a moment.

Since regular service began on the nation's first bullet train line, the Tokaido Shinkansen Line, in 1964, the year when the Niigata Earthquake struck, I had never heard of a derailment involving a Shinkansen train.

I learned later that the derailed superexpress did not overturn. Still, it is easy to imagine how horrified the passengers aboard the Toki were.


In the case of a natural disaster, the worst damage often occurs in areas that are the least accessible. Given this possibility, I prayed that the police and firefighters or the troops from the Self-Defense Forces would reach the most stricken areas as soon as possible to begin rescue activities.


What is viewed as the oldest record of an earthquake in Japan can be found in ``Nihon Shoki,'' known as the Chronicles of Japan. An imperially commissioned work, this is the nation's oldest ``authentic'' history.

An entry refers to a temblor that struck the province of Kawachi, now part of Osaka Prefecture, in July of the fifth year of Emperor Ingyo's reign, the equivalent of August in 416 when the lunar-solar calendar adjustment is made. Old documents show that the Kawachi earthquake that struck more than 1,500 years ago was followed by nearly 10,000 quakes in later years. (All this is according to an Iwanami paperback titled ``Shin Jishin-no Hanashi'' that translates roughly as ``New tales about earthquakes.'')


It may not be too far-fetched to say that this country is destined to suffer from earthquakes. Nothing can stop them from occurring, and there is no hope that their coming can be predicted accurately.

But it is possible to keep the damage from spreading if people join their hands quickly.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 24(IHT/Asahi: October 26,2004) (10/26)

Brushing up on Japan's long history of art

An item on display at an exhibition caught my attention. What was intriguing about the baked-clay vessel was that its handles had what looked like a pattern of leaping flames.

It was a product from the Jomon Period, which started somewhere between 700 and 800 years B.C. and lasted for several thousand years. The artifact is known as kaen doki (flaming crockery)-a name that presumably takes into account the pattern on its handles. The pattern made such an outstanding image that the whole pot almost seemed to be enveloped by leaping flames.

A vast array of artifacts and art objects, ranging from earthenware to Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, are on display in the ``Highlights of Japanese Art'' exhibition that is under way in the main hall of the Tokyo National Museum in the capital's Ueno district. The exhibition was set up to provide a bird's-eye view of the history of Japanese art.



The exhibits, including national treasures and important cultural properties, are presented in chronological order. Thus, there are sections dealing with the kofun (ancient burial mounds) period, the arrival and rise of Buddhism, and court arts during the Heian Period (794-1185) and the Muromachi Period (1333-1573). There are also displays focused on Zen, tea ceremony, warrior armor, Noh and Kabuki.

The chronological arrangement makes it easy to get a good overview and understanding of the history of Japanese art. It also helps visitors focus their attention on certain periods and styles of art. This greatly informative exhibition left me impressed with the profundity and stillness of Japanese art. I was also struck by the enormity of the Asian Continent's influence.


I proceeded into the adjoining Heisei Hall to look at ``Treasures of Ancient China,'' which runs through Nov. 28. Organizers said a number of artifacts and art pieces equal to national treasures were assembled for the exhibition-pieces that were amassed through the continent's long, long history.

There were images of Buddha wearing various facial expressions. A king-like mantle--thousands of pieces of jade woven together with gold thread--also stood out among the exhibits.

While I was impressed by these items, I was also charmed by images of people who were neither Buddha nor a king.


One example was a terra-cotta image of a rowing man--one of the numerous statues unearthed in the tomb of famous Emperor Shi of the Qin Dynasty.

The man is seated, with both legs stretched out in front. He holds something with both hands that is stretched close to the toes. Inexplicably, I felt an affinity toward this man who has been rowing for more than 2,000 years.


My imagination also took flight when I saw a Tang Dynasty (618-907) terra-cotta image of a woman of ample proportions wearing ankle-length clothing. She stands calmly, balanced over her left foot.

Images of full-bodied women are said to have gained popularity after the reign of Emperor Xuanzong. The other day, stories about a Japanese a court official who had traveled to China as a member of a Japanese mission during the emperor's reign in the Tang Dynasty reported that this monarch, saddened by the emissary's death, gave him a special burial. I wonder if the emissaries like the student-turned-court-official had met any of the women who posed for these statues.


On my way home from Ueno, I pondered what I had seen, thinking about those who helped bridge Japan and the Asian Continent.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 18(IHT/Asahi: October 25,2004) (10/25)

Maintaining solidarity in the face of disaster

A news photo taken in the aftermath of the latest typhoon, the likes of which I have not seen before, shows a group of men and women huddled together on the roof of a bus which is almost completely submerged in muddy water. It looks like it could be swallowed up at any moment.

In a tree nearby, two people are holding on for dear life.

It was simply amazing that these people survived this overnight ordeal.

In the face of a devastating natural disaster, humans are really helpless. Yet, beneath their helplessness, there is also tremendous capacity for survival.



When the waters began to rise in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, it appears the bus passengers knew they had to help one another and fight it out together. Men smashed a window with a hammer, tied curtains to make a rope and pulled their fellow passengers up onto the roof.


Atop the bus, a woman, a former nurse, started singing the upbeat song ``Sukiyaki'' and invited everyone to join in. Next, she switched to ``Musunde Hiraite'' (Close your fist, open your fist), a popular children's song that is accompanied by hand movements. And when coldness began to set in, everyone linked arms and huddled close together for warmth shouting, ``Wasshoi, wasshoi'' (heave-ho).


When trapped in a small space after an accident, such as in a ship or airplane, people are said to instinctively understand their helplessness as individuals. This tends to create a bond among survivors. For the bus passengers, being stranded in the flood waters was probably akin to being in a shipwreck.

Still, I am truly impressed that they were able to stay calm and continue to maintain their sense of solidarity while their lives hung precariously amid the swirling waters in utter darkness.


Typhoon No. 23, a record 10th typhoon to make landfall in Japan this season, left a trail of devastation. In Muroto, Kochi Prefecture, high waves smashed a concrete seawall and destroyed homes, killing three people.


Did this seawall still have the structural sturdiness to withstand such waves?
An evacuation order for local residents was issued about an hour after the homes had been destroyed.

If administrative authorities are lax in preparing for and responding to disasters, even the tremendous human capacity for survival is of little worth.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 22(IHT/Asahi: October 23,2004) (10/23)

U.S. media have an eye on candidates' blinks

A Chicago train station scene in the early 20th century left an indelible impression on Kafu Nagai, the author of ``Amerika Monogatari'' (America story).

``What avid newspaper readers these Americans are,'' he observes, noting that every single person waiting for a train clutched a newspaper in hand, devouring the pages with ``fearsome'' eyes.



With the eventual addition of radio and television, the U.S. media have since become much more diversified. But they remain an ``empire'' all the same that continues to wield tremendous influence. The media, in fact, can even determine the outcome of something really big like presidential elections.


Television media especially have transformed this national ``event.'' Seemingly trivial details have become crucial objects of public scrutiny. Four years ago, for instance, blinking became that sort of issue in the presidential TV debate series between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Based on analyses of past TV debate performances by presidential candidates, a psychologist posited that whoever blinked more would lose the election. In the 2000 debate, Bush far outblinked Gore.


But even though the validity of this theory became suspect with Bush's victory, counts were taken again for this year's presidential debate series.

In the first round, Bush set a phenomenal record for blinking. In Round Two, however, the incumbent did a good job of controlling the frequency to about a half that of Senator John Kerry's.


Newspapers declare which candidate they endorse, in order to assert their difference from the rest of the media. The New York Times has endorsed Kerry, lauding the senator's ``wide knowledge and clear thinking.'' The Chicago Tribune stands by Bush, ``the man of action,'' saying, ``He (Kerry) is more about plans and process than solutions. He is better suited to analysis than to action.''


Election Day is drawing near amid an overwhelming flood of information about the candidates-ranging from how often they blink to their policies and personalities. I hope American voters will judge what they see with those ``fearsome'' eyes that so impressed Nagai.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 21(IHT/Asahi: October 22,2004) (10/22)

Deconstructing Jackie Derrida in my own way

How would you react if someone got your name wrong? Displeased? Offended? Some people just let it pass.

Once, I broke out in a cold sweat when I realized that I had misspelled the given name of an eminent philosopher in an interview story.

I called him and apologized. He accepted my apology politely, saying, ``Things like that often happen.''



The victim of my carelessness was Jacques Derrida, the French philosopher who died the other day at age 74.

In my story, I had spelled Jacques the English way. Of course, I should have spelled it the French way. When I learned later that his real given name was Jackie, an American name, I thought my mistake might not have been so bad.


Derrida was one of the world's most influential philosophers in the second half of the 20th century.

Since his death, I have been wondering why his ``deconstruction theory'' was so lionized. To an ignorant amateur like me, one possible answer may lie in the fact that his esoteric writings can be rendered into plain precepts for life.


Let me give an example. If someone challenging Derrida's views starts off saying angrily, ``To speak without worrying about being misunderstood ...,'' the philosopher could cut him off by asserting that ``what people say is all based on misunderstandings.''

Inherent in Derrida's philosophy was the premise that there were no such things as orthodox interpretations or established facts.


Let me cite the example of a man nearing death. If he was satisfied with the way he had lived, he would say, ``I have seen everything worth seeing.''

Likewise, Derrida believed that humankind had seen everything and had thought everything out already. This premise was the starting point of his philosophical inquiry. He believed that a philosopher's job was not to add something to the stock of human knowledge but instead to shift the contexts of thought.


Nowadays, I see many books of philosophy on sale at bookstores. Perhaps the increasingly unstable state of the world is driving people to look for something to count on spiritually.

To put it my way, Derrida would say to readers of philosophical works, ``Don't be afraid of misinterpretations.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20(IHT/Asahi: October 21,2004) (10/21)

U.S. media should relay `global public opinion'

A recent cartoon in the French daily Le Monde shows a person, whose round head represents the Earth, looking in horror at a big, mean-looking elephant running with a gun slung across its fat torso.



The headline of the article with the cartoon says, ``America Yes, Bush No.'' The elephant is the official mascot of the Republican Party of the United States.

The Asahi Shimbun recently ran the results of an opinion poll conducted in 10 countries about how they view the United States. The headline of the story with the cartoon pretty much summed up the overall poll results. But two nations deviated from the ``norm.''

 最近の仏ルモンド紙に載ったイラストだ。象は、アメリカの共和党の象徴で、見出しは「アメリカはイエス ブッシュはノー」。本紙でも報じた、対米意識についての10カ国での共同世論調査の記事である。一言でまとめれば見出し通りだが、平均値から相当離れた国もあった。

In Israel, where 71 percent of respondents said they preferred U.S. President George W. Bush, the Haaretz newspaper noted, ``The Israeli public will continue to see him (Bush) as the man who holds the umbrella on rainy days.''

The Israeli people are not especially interested in Bush's attitude to environmental quality or the United Nations, the Haaretz reporter wrote. ``All they want to know is that the Americans are on their side.''


Russia followed Israel with 44 percent of respondents favoring Bush to win. To explain why, the Moscow News referred to President Vladimir Putin's attempts to concentrate power in his hands by changing the Constitution to crack down on Chechen dissidents. ``Did President Bush ever try to encroach upon the U.S. Constitution?'' the paper asked.


The writer concluded, ``Why did it not occur to him, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to abolish governor elections? ... And while Russian citizens look for the answers to those questions in their consciousness, Russia again falls far behind all the others and the U.S. model comes out like a distant star on the horizon.''


The good feelings people around the world have for America were justly earned by Americans throughout the country's years of history. To squander them would be a terrible loss, not only for America but for the rest of the world as well.

I can only pray that the U.S. media ensures that the American public gets to hear this ``global public opinion.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 19(IHT/Asahi: October 20,2004) (10/20)

Minamata victims deserve a sincere apology

Novelist Tsutomu Mizukami, who died last month, first learned the details of the Minamata mercury poisoning case in 1959. Watching a TV program reporting on the damage done to the health of many local residents, he thought: ``This is a murder case unfolding before the masses in broad daylight, with no attempt at hiding. There must be culprits somewhere.''



The next day, the novelist left for Minamata, the scene of the tragedy in Kumamoto Prefecture, where he visited patients and their families and made a tour of the plant under suspicion. In the end, he became convinced that ``nothing but the waste water flowing out of the plant could be responsible for the disease.''

The conviction led him to write ``Shiranui-kai Engan'' (On the shores of the Sea of Shiranui), a mystery novel set in the fictional city of Minakata. I remember a ghastly scene where crows, stricken with a mysterious disease, crazily pick at human corpses.


By this time, tests had confirmed that doses of waste water from the plant produced symptoms of Minamata disease in cats, and a research team from Kumamoto University had pointed to organic mercury in the waste water as the likely cause of the disease. But it was not until three years after the disease's ``official'' discovery that these scientific findings were reported.


The Supreme Court ruled last Friday that the central government and the Kumamoto prefectural government had been at fault for the outbreak of Minamata disease. The decision was handed down in a suit filed by patients uncertified for official assistance, who had moved from the shores of the Sea of Shiranui to the Kansai district, and the bereaved families of dead patients.

Minamata disease is said to be the first pollution-related ailment in postwar Japan. This makes the top court's verdict greatly significant and weighty. The national government and the Kumamoto prefectural government should give fresh thought to the tremendous damage done by the disease and offer a sincere apology to all patients and their families.


Nearly half a century has passed since the disease was ``officially'' discovered. Michiko Ishimure, who is still continuing to write about the tragedy of Minamata, says the years have been too cruel for patients. Crushed by the cruel years herself, she has completed her Noh play ``Shiranui'' in desperation.

The drama casts Shiranui as the daughter of the dragon god. Shiranui and her younger brother sacrifice their lives to detoxify the sea. The verse that describes her appearance to perform the role goes: ``From the bottom of the sea, I have come/ Not to what I dreamed about but to the real shore.''

This verse is used to conclude the author's afterword to Volume III of her complete works, which also includes ``Kugai Jodo'' (Pure land in sea of suffering), an account of the tragedy that catapulted her to nationwide prominence.


We can see that she wrote the drama as a requiem for those who were thrown into the sea of suffering.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 16(IHT/Asahi: October 19,2004) (10/19)

Overseas volunteers gain personal growth

Residents of the Marshall Islands in the Western Pacific are known to work meticulously to clean up fallen leaves or dig up weeds. In contrast, cans, bottles, plastic containers and Styrofoam items are often left by the wayside-those items are not considered garbage in the conventional sense.



A report to this effect has been filed by a member of the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). One may dismiss the complaint as a trifling matter, but volunteers trying to enlighten the islanders on environmental issues take it seriously.

They know that the islanders' questionable perception of garbage is rooted in their culture and lifestyles. Even so, unable to suppress their irritation, they tend to blame the islanders and believe they are ``less enlightened when compared with Japanese.''


A JOCV member who went to Nepal to promote a community development program came to blows with a local young man, who under the influence of alcohol was looking for trouble. In his report, he frankly admitted he was to blame for the fight, because he was feeling haughtily: ``How dare you obstruct me when I am doing what is right for you?''


The JOCV secretariat has published a collection of reports from its volunteers who have served abroad. Reports of successful missions mingle with cases where young people struggling in lands with different cultures ended up baffled and frustrated, and engaged in soul-searching about why they failed.

One can see that even those who did well scored their success after overcoming a variety of their own mistakes.


Based on her survey of JOCV members, noted social anthropologist Chie Nakane drew the following conclusions, among others: Overenthusiasm is liable to leave people more disappointed and dissatisfied; those who are slow to adapt often gain a deeper understanding of a different culture; and in a severe environment, an individual's overall personal ability comes into play, regardless of what school he went to and what occupation he is engaged in. (These points are made in Nakane's book on the possibilities and limits of Japanese, published by Kodansha.)


The JOCV offers opportunities for members to change themselves through contact with different cultures while also lending a helping hand in developing or underdeveloped countries.

The cooperation corps, which will observe the 40th anniversary of its founding next year, has sent about 26,000 people on overseas missions to date. The latest recruitment drive began on Oct. 10.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 11(IHT/Asahi: October 18,2004) (10/18)

Daiei beaten by the consumers it nurtured

In 1969, Isao Nakauchi, who was president of Daiei Inc. at the time, published a book titled ``Waga Yasu-uri Tetsugaku'' (My philosophy of discount retailing). Likening his distribution reforms to a proletarian revolution, he called for the establishment of ``soviets'' around the nation, and vowed to unseat the ``old regime.'' His was a radical argument that rode the current of that era.



Two years later, excerpts from his book were included in a Chikuma Shobo publication titled ``Sengo Nihon Shiso Taikei 8 Keizai no Shiso'' (Compendium of postwar Japanese philosophy Vol. 8, economic philosophy).

The editor, Mitsuharu Ito, noted that Nakauchi was arguably the first entrepreneur to stand up for the rights of consumers and challenge manufacturers.

``This was an honor I shall never forget for the rest of my life,'' Nakauchi later recalled.

 2年後、大塚久雄、宇野弘蔵らの論文とともに『戦後日本思想大系8 経済の思想』(筑摩書房)に抄録された。編者の伊東光晴氏は、消費者主権を背景にメーカーへの対抗力を打ち出そうとする主張は初めてではないか、と評した。本人は「私にとって生涯の誇りである」と振り返っている。

In 1969, the same year Nakauchi's book was published, Daiei began setting up an extensive retail network. The following year, sales topped 100 billion yen. In 1972 Daiei became the nation's top-selling retailer.

But at the zenith of his success, Nakauchi had some uneasy moments of self-doubt and turned to Mumon Yamada, a Buddhist priest of the Rinsai sect, for counsel. In ``Ryutsu Kakumei wa Owaranai'' (Distribution revolution will continue), a book from Nihon Keizai Shimbunsha, Nakauchi says his inner turmoil was put to rest by Yamada's words: ``So long as society needs your company, your company will survive.''


Retracing Nakauchi's path and the history of Daiei, one clearly sees the undulations of ``consumer appetites'' in postwar Japan. Perhaps this is why people are pained to watch Daiei's present plight and struggle for rebirth.


Starting with discount drugs, Daiei expanded its merchandise to sweets and snacks. When customers were sated with sweets and wanted to stuff themselves with sukiyaki, Daiei complied by offering inexpensive beef--an epochal move that would firmly establish the company's merchandising policy.

Nakauchi never forgot the hunger he had suffered as a soldier who saw action during World War II.


But consumers' appetites knew no limits and continued to diversify. In the end, Daiei was overwhelmed by the very revolution it has set in motion and found itself high and dry--an ironic twist of fate indeed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 15(IHT/Asahi: October 16,2004) (10/16)

Look for the `bait' to take you to tomorrow

Kazuko To, a poet afflicted with Hansen's disease, wrote a poem that says: ``And I am a fish/ Rising to the bait/ That would hook me today/ To take me to tomorrow.''

This work is included in ``Kibo-no Hi-wo'' (For a spark of hope), published by Henshukobo Noa.



Every time I hear about young people killing themselves in group suicides, I think of To, who has continued to question with a sense of wonderment why she keeps living or is forced to live.

Unlike To, those young suicides did not rise to the bait that would bridge today and tomorrow. Why? And I have to wonder why they felt the need to kill themselves in a group setting.


Here is a comment that ran in The Asahi Shimbun last year: ``I want to die, but I am afraid to die. Perhaps it's more like not wanting to live, rather than wanting to die.''

Apparently, they shared a sense of deep weariness with life. They also seemed to share their fear of death and wanted to avoid pain. Am I to understand, then, that they found their best solution for easing fear and pain in huddling over a charcoal cooking stove and dying together from carbon monoxide poisoning?


An Internet bulletin board message I came across recently said: ``I don't know how to light a charcoal stove. Could someone please tell me?'' Someone else posted a message to the effect that he/she had purchased charcoal but was without a car, so he/she was looking for someone with a driver's licence.

The casualness of it was so out of place, it could have been a Web site for hiking aficionados or something.


But this suicide pact business is apparently not unique to Japan.

According to a British news report on Net-solicited group suicide attempts, British police were tipped off that six people were planning to commit suicide together. The police stopped them from going ahead. So, Britain does have cases of group suicides, but not as many as are in Japan.


To me, the image of people coming together via the Internet and huddling together around a charcoal stove seems to mirror the loneliness and bleakness that can assault people in Japan today.

I pray that they would at least look for the bait that would ``take them to tomorrow.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 14(IHT/Asahi: October 15,2004) (10/15)

When does a "strange land" become "home"?

Poet-novelist Saisei Muroo (1889-1962) earned fame with two lines of poetry: ``Your native place is what you are to think of from afar/ It is what you are to sing about sadly from afar.''

These lines appear in ``Jojo Shokyoku Shu'' (Short lyrical poems), Muroo's early work.



They express how he felt in his hometown, Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. He had returned there after failing to realize his dream of becoming a poet in Tokyo.

The following lines strike his sentiment home: ``Hometown is not a place to return to/ Even if I should be reduced / To begging for food in a strange land.''


I recalled Muroo's poem because the words ``strange land'' and ``home'' were mentioned in a news report about a stone epitaph that had been found in China. The epitaph was for a student who had traveled to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) on a Japanese mission.

Based on a Xinhua News Agency report, an expert has translated the concluding part as: ``The body has been buried in a strange land, but the soul will surely find its way home.''


According to the epitaph, the deceased was someone who was sent to the Tang Dynasty together with the famed poet-scholar-administrator Abe no Nakamaro (698-770) and served Emperor Xuanzong's court with distinction, only to die of a sudden illness at the age of 36. Xuanzong gave him a special burial.

If we believe the epitaph, it seems the student lived a dramatic life, at once dazzling and saddening.


Missions to China during the Tang Dynasty were instituted by the court of Empress Suiko (554-628). They were recommended by the monks and students who had been sent to China during the Sui Dynasty (589-618), and had returned home after witnessing the demise of Sui and replacement by Tang, according to ``Saigo-no Kentoshi'' (The last mission to the Tang Dynasty, published by Kodansha).

The returnees referred to the Tang Dynasty as ``Morokoshi-no Kuni'' (Great Tang Empire). They called for regular contacts with that empire, describing it as ``a gem of a country, stable and complete with a well-developed legal system.''


To a man who served with remarkable distinction in the capital of the Tang Dynasty, a center of civilization of not only China but the whole world, the words ``strange land'' and ``home'' should have held meanings different from what they meant to Saisei Muroo.

But these are weighty and painful words in all ages and circumstances when it comes to navigating the tough sea of life.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 13(IHT/Asahi: October 14,2004) (10/14)

Planting trees with seeds of hope for peace

In 1815, the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem about a ginkgo leaf in Heidelberg. He sent this poem and two ginkgo leaves to a woman he was secretly in love with. The poem's first stanza goes: ``This leaf from a tree in the East/ Has been given to my garden/ It reveals a certain secret/ Which pleases me and thoughtful people.''

A Japanese translation of this poem appears in ``Kigi-wo Wataru Kaze'' (Winds through boughs), a Shinchosha book authored by Takashi Oshio.



Calling his own book a modest ``song of praise'' for trees, Oshio notes: ``Every leaf that has fallen on the dark earth is beautiful beyond words. ... What moves me so is the fact that each leaf is something I am seeing for the first time in life, as well as for the very last time.''


In this season that makes people more prone to contemplate life's meaning in the falling of leaves, Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who has kept up a tree-planting campaign, was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Called the Green Belt Movement, her campaign began with just seven trees.


Maathai told BBC: ``After I heard the news I looked at peaceful Mount Kenya ... and the poor mountain where our forefathers worshipped seemed to look at me and say, `Thank you for helping me.'''

The new Nobel laureate also stressed the importance of environmental protection to peace efforts, explaining that disputes can erupt when natural resources become scarce from the destruction of the environment.


Nobel Peace Prize recipients represent the times we live in. Controversy has arisen in the past over the selection of some winners, but one could say the qualifications were somewhat expanded this year.

The Financial Times of Britain quoted Maathi as saying, ``When we plant new trees, we plant the seeds of peace.''

Let us hope the Nobel Peace Prize will also continue to plant the seeds of hope in people around the world.

 平和賞は、その時々の世界を映す。論議を呼んだ年もあったが、今回は、賞の幅を広げたと言えるだろう。 「私たちが新しい木を植えるとき、私たちは平和の種も植えるのです」とマータイさん(英フィナンシャル・タイムズ)。平和賞もまた、世界の人々の心に、希望の種を植え続けるものであってほしい。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 10(IHT/Asahi: October 13,2004) (10/13)

Taking a positive view of the Shinkansen

The era of bullet train service arrived in Japan 40 years ago this month with the opening of the Tokaido Shinkansen Superexpress Line, the first of its kind.

These days, the number of passengers annually carried by Shinkansen trains, including those in service on the lines that were built later, exceeds the nation's population.

The aggregate distance covered by the Shinkansen superexpresses in the past 40 years is equal to five round-trip journeys between the Earth and the sun.



Thanks to the tireless efforts of those pursuing precise train operations over the years, delays have been shortened to 10 seconds on average per train.

Best of all, in the 40-year history of Shinkansen service, the railway companies have been spared a disastrous accident, such as a head-on collision between superexpress trains.


The extraordinary speed of the bullet train strikes home when you stand on a Shinkansen station platform and watch a Nozomi (Hope) superexpress pass by. The fastest of the Shinkansen trains, it seems to be flying rather than rolling.

As a high-ranking Chinese official put it, ``You feel as if you are being chased by someone whipping you from behind.'' But that description is less than accurate for passengers, who don't really get a sense of the bullet train's awesome speed.


Over the past 40 years, the Shinkansen trains have become faster and the number of scheduled runs has increased. These high-speed trains have become something we cannot do without now.

Because they are also likely to encourage people to leave their villages for large cities-worsening the depopulation of the countryside and the overcrowding of urban areas-the railway companies must pay more attention to these problems.

The companies also must keep in mind the fact that they are operating Shinkansen trains at the expense of people living along the tracks. They owe it to these people to try to make bullet trains the safest in the world, instead of competing with other countries to operate the world's fastest.


A common complaint is that it's almost pointless to look out the window of a bullet train to take in the view. Predictably, complaints of this nature have tailed off in recent years as the proportion of business travelers has increased.

But Shunzo Miyawaki objects to what seems to be the consensus among Shinkansen travelers. ``Looking out of the Shinkansen window is not so bad,'' he says.

Miyawaki rode all the lines operated by the Japanese National Railways before it was privatized and broken up into the present JR railway companies.

Why, Miyawaki asks, do people have to shuttle busily between the Kanto and Kansai districts, 500 kilometers apart?

As he sees it, the reason is that Tokugawa Ieyasu polarized Japan by establishing the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo.

The areas along the Tokaido Shinkansen Superexpress Line, he says, are covered with the footprints of Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun.

With easy access to nearby areas associated with Oda Nobunaga, who seized power ahead of Ieyasu, these places are a treasure house of historical sites. (These views are advanced in a collection of Miyawaki's railway travel essays, published by Kadokawa Shoten.)


Four hundred years have passed since the polarization of Japan by Ieyasu, if what Miyawaki says is true. For travelers musing on the historical changes that presumably altered the landscape, the window of a Shinkansen superexpress is a perfect vantage point.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 4(IHT/Asahi: October 11,2004) (10/11)

It's the WMD's turn to comment on all the fuss

I am the WMD that supposedly existed. I haven't been found yet. Or rather, America's top arms inspector has just concluded that I never existed after all. This is his final word on the matter, based on months of investigation that involved 1,000 intelligence agents and cost nearly 100 billion yen.



I will never forget the people who fervently defended my existence. My chief spokesman was the president of the United States. One of his most memorable arguments was to the effect that Iraq had the capability to provide biological and chemical weapons to terrorist groups and individual terrorists, any time.


The British prime minister was another powerful apologist. He insisted there was absolutely no doubt that weapons of mass destruction would be found. But I must say he became a bit of a wimp when he began asking people to wait for the final report from the American inspection team.


In any case, were it not for these two men, the world would not have paid me so much attention. But, seen from a different perspective, I was the one who legitimized their words and deeds, since my existence was the ultimate justification for their pre-emptive strike against Iraq. Not that I really care, but I do worry a bit for them now.


I couldn't help bursting into laughter at hearing Japan's chief Cabinet secretary say, ``I should think it is excellent that something like that does not exist.'' By ``something like that,'' I suppose he meant me. As far as I know, the prime minister of Japan was always as much a believer in my existence as the American president. The chief Cabinet secretary has done a pretty good job of weaseling out of an embarrassing situation, but hey, what happens to me now?


At the end of the day, it appears that I was just a fabrication. This being the case, let me graciously bow out of the center stage of history. And I would suggest the same to the people who insisted I existed.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 8(IHT/Asahi: October 9,2004) (10/09)

Remembering the unbeaten track of old

After an interminable wet spell, the sky finally cleared on Wednesday morning and I could not resist an early morning walk in the dazzling sunshine. Everything seemed to sparkle, even the air itself, cleansed by the rains that had persisted until the night before.

A rainy spell in autumn is called ``shurin'' in Japanese, and this expression usually evokes an image of gentle drizzle. But the rains we had were anything but pelting.

Droplets of water glistened on the tips of leaves, and sunbeams danced as they filtered through foliage. A haiku about a temple in Nikko by Basho sprang to mind, even though the season in which he portrayed was early summer.

It goes like this: ``How awe-inspiring!/ On the green leaves, the young leaves/ The light of the sun.'' (Translation by Donald Keene, from ``The Narrow Road to Oku,'' Kodansha International,1996)



In 1878, or the 11th year of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), British traveler Isabella L. Bird set out on her journey to northern Japan by way of Nikko. Along the way, curious eyes peered at her from all directions.


Her travelogue, ``Unbeaten Tracks in Japan,'' has been translated into Japanese and is available in the Toyo Bunko series under the title ``Nihon Okuchi Kiko.'' At one time, she writes, some 1,000 Japanese gathered outside the inn where she was staying and she had to be escorted out of town by four policemen. ``The noise made by 1,000 people shuffling along in clogs is like the clatter of a hail-storm,'' she observed.


She also described how she was pestered by fleas and mosquitoes and put off by local food-she was particularly turned off by misoshiru soup, which she called ``broth of abominable things.'' Nevertheless, Bird completed her three-month journey to Hokkaido via the Tohoku region.


At that time, school education was not mandatory and Bird was fascinated by parent-child relations and interaction within Japanese homes: ``I never saw people take so much delight in their offspring, carrying them about, or holding their hands in walking ... never content to be without them,'' she wrote.

In a Heibonsha book titled ``Izabera Baado-no `Nihon Okuchi Kiko'-wo Yomu'' (Reading Isabella Bird's ``Unbeaten Tracks in Japan''), Tsuneichi Miyamoto, an ethnologist, notes that some of Bird's insights into Japanese family relationships still apply to this day.


Bird also traveled to Korea and China, and died in Edinburgh on Oct. 7, exactly 100 years ago, aged 72. According to ``Eikoku-to Nihon'' (Britain and Japan) published by Hakubunkan Shinsha, Bird worried about the Russo-Japanese War even as she lay sick in bed. But she was intent on visiting Asia again. Her travel bags were packed, all she had to do was pick them up and go.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 7 (IHT/Asahi: October 8,2004) (10/08)

The `real' story of Genghis Khan unfolding

For theatergoers, the 1994 stage drama ``Kiru'' was a unique offering.

Hideki Noda, who not only wrote the script but also directed its production, drew heavily on the life of Genghis Khan.

The play's young hero, Temujin (the Mongol conqueror's name as a child), is cast as a fashion designer who, surrounded by sheep, toils away on his sewing machine making clothes.

The drama revolves around his ambition to make people all over the world wear a uniform he has designed.

Given what Genghis Khan did to realize his ambition, the drama's Japanese title is fitting as the word ``kiru'' in this case is intended to have a double meaning--``to kill'' and ``to wear.''



In contrast to the sheer dimensions of the empire he built, very little is known about the conqueror himself.

The wealth of mysteries has provoked the imagination of many people. Probably, this was what motivated Noda to turn Genghis Khan's ceaseless battles into a stage production depicting the cutthroat competition of the contemporary fashion world.


One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the famed conqueror has been the whereabouts of his grave.

On Monday, a joint team of researchers from Japan and Mongolia announced a major breakthrough. They have discovered the site of a mausoleum dedicated to Genghis Khan. Hopes are now growing that his grave will be found nearby.


When the late novelist Ryotaro Shiba traveled through Mongolia in the 1970s, he ``took care not to mention this man's name''--the ``man'' being Genghis Khan.

At that time, Mongolia was under the strong influence of the Soviet Union. Genghis Khan was perceived as an aggressor against Russia and treated as an ``evil beast.''

``The way the Soviet Union detests Genghis Khan is almost comical,'' Shiba wrote in ``Kaido-wo Yuku'' (Travels by the old highways), a series of travel essays published by The Asahi Shimbun.


The fall of the Soviet Union was a blessing for Genghis Khan.

After Mongolia was freed from Soviet influence, he made his comeback as the country's ``founding hero.'' In 1992, he was officially reinstated when the president of Mongolia extolled him as ``the pride of all Mongols.''

Advances in research on the conqueror are now promoting the view that though he was an aggressor, the tolerance he showed to people of all religious faiths was a remarkable virtue for the ruler of a vast empire.


Generations of people have been charmed by the story of the ``blue wolf'' galloping across grassland. (One theory has it that Genghis Khan's desire to prove that he was his father's son--someone with the blood of the legendary blue wolf of Mongolia running in his body--drove him into waging the endless wars.)

The legend of the blue wolf has provided material for a number of novels and movies. But the stage is now shifting from legend to history.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 6(IHT/Asahi: October 7,2004) (10/07)

Glasses can sharpen up wearer's worldview

A short-sighted acquaintance once told me how he felt when he first donned a pair of glasses.

``The world looked completely different,'' he recalled. ``But I was also a bit disappointed because I could see ugliness and sordidness more clearly.''



Glasses are a great invention that can even change the wearer's worldview, but the inventor's identity remains a mystery.

It seems most likely that glasses were invented in 13th-century Italy, where glass-manufacturing techniques were highly advanced. Paintings from the 14th century on depict people with reading glasses, or what we today call glasses for the aged.

In the early days, how to hold them in place had to be worked out by trial and error. There were models that were held by hand. Others were designed to rest on the bridge of one's nose.


In Japan, spectacles are believed to have been introduced by the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier in the 16th century. Valued as rare foreign imports, they were affordable only to feudal lords and the top crust of society. Full-fledged production did not begin until the Meiji Period (1868-1912).


Today, Japan's bespectacled population is said to range between 50 million and 60 million-nearly half the population.

Fuji Optical Co., which has been sponsoring a campaign to donate glasses to refugees in various parts of Asia, was named a recipient of the newly instituted Asahi Corporate Citizen Award. This reminded me that many people around the world are still living without glasses, unable to correct their vision.


The Daichi-in temple in Chita, Aichi Prefecture, is also known as ``Megane Kobo'' (Kobo with glasses).

According to legend, a sight-impaired supplicant miraculously regained his sight when he prayed before a statue of the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi (774-835).

When the statue's left eye was found to be damaged right after this episode, someone put a pair of glasses on it.

The temple holds an annual ceremony at the end of October, when people bring their old glasses they no longer need. These glasses are given to needy people in Sri Lanka.


A poem by Shuji Miya reads: ``Gazed through new lenses in my glasses/ The stars are blue in the spring sky.''

I wonder how the clear skies of autumn will look. Sometimes, you need glasses to make the present state of the world visible.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 5(IHT/Asahi: October 6,2004) (10/06)

Will Bush's resolve or Kerry's judgment win?

One way to look at the first debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry is that they made the U.S. presidential election in November a matter of choosing between Bush's ``steadfast resolve'' and Kerry's ``judgment.'' As I watched the debate on TV, both appeared to be saying this was their game plan.



President Bush repeatedly charged that Senator Kerry lacked consistency. To drive this point home, Bush said about Kerry: ``He voted to authorize the use of force (against Iraq) and now says it's the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place.''

Alluding to his record in this respect, Bush emphasized, ``The best way to defeat them (the enemy) is to never waver.'' He also said, ``The way to win this is to be steadfast and resolved.''


Kerry countered Bush's charge by saying, ``This president has made, I regret to say, a colossal error of judgment.''

While questioning the president's judgment, the senator made two historical references and said in one, ``The terrorism czar, who has worked for every president since Ronald Reagan, said, `Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor.'''

In the other, Kerry recalled how President John F. Kennedy sent his secretary of state to talk with President Charles de Gaulle of France during the Cuban missile crisis and show him photos of missile batteries in Cuba. Kerry said, ``De Gaulle waved them off and said, `No, no, no, no. The word of the president of the United States is good enough for me.'''

This quote was obviously to unfavorably compare the current U.S. president, who has been criticized by the French, with Kennedy, who had De Gaulle's trust.


Speaking of tactics, Bush was too eager to attack Kerry's ``lack of consistency'' for his own good. Too often, he repeated his Democratic opponent's claim that the president had led America into a wrong war. Repeating the word ``wrong'' seemed to be counterproductive as it sounded as if the label applied to Bush.

At any rate, Kerry, as a challenger not directly responsible for the savage reality of war, had an advantage in the first of three presidential debates.


Kerry is more than 10 centimeters taller than Bush. One could tell the difference when they stood together. But the difference vanished when they were shown separately in side-by-side footage, with the positions of their heads adjusted to be equal.


The question is how Americans who tuned in to the presidential debate marked Bush's steadfast resolve and Kerry's judgment. This is of crucial importance for the whole world whose fortunes are to be greatly affected by what opinions the voters of a single country form of their presidential candidates.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2(IHT/Asahi: October 5,2004) (10/05)

Hearn's proclivity to wander written in Greek

A dot in the Ionian Sea, the Greek island of Lefkada is about 400 kilometers west of Athens, the site of the 2004 Paralympics.

Lafcadio Hearn, an author best known for his books about Japan, including ``Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan'' and ``Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,'' was born on this island in 1850.



The place where he was born was called Leucadia, a name which he adopted for himself. This place name is said to mean ``to wander,'' according to an encyclopedia on Koizumi Yakumo (the name Hearn took as a naturalized Japanese), published by Kobunsha.

Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890, but his life before that was migratory for a long time. He first moved from Greece, the homeland of his mother, to Ireland, the homeland of his father. Then, he lived in Britain, the United States and the French West Indies.


In Japan, Hearn was appointed a lecturer of English literature at the Tokyo Imperial University (the forerunner to the University of Tokyo) after teaching in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, and in Kumamoto, the capital of Kumamoto Prefecture.

After Hearn's departure, he was succeeded by Natsume Soseki, who was to become one of modern Japan's greatest novelists.

Giving a humble account of himself in comparison to Hearn, Natsume told his wife: ``My predecessor is an authority on English literature. Moreover, his literary reputation resounds around the world. On the other hand, I am inexperienced, still not much more than a student. You just can't expect me to perform like him as his successor.''


Hearn had a heart attack and died on Sept. 26, 1904. A monument marking the spot where he died stands in front of Okubo Elementary School in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. Two days before the centennial of his death, I went to see the Yakumo Memorial Park, which sits cater-corner from the monument.


The park has a bust of Hearn because Shinjuku Ward has city ties with Lefkada. It was a gift from the Greek government. As I saw the bust facing the west, I recalled a list of things Hearn loved, a list cited by his Japanese wife, Setsuko, in her memoirs.

The list was headed by the western direction. Also on the list were: ``sunset glow at dusk,'' ``summer,'' ``the sea,'' ``recreational swimming'' and ``solitary graveyards.''


During my visit, a butterfly was dancing around the tips of luxuriant olive leaves near the bust. It was a species called shijimi cho, or lycaenid, to be exact. Cicadas, ants and butterflies were also Hearn's ``best friends,'' according to his wife's memoirs.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 25(IHT/Asahi: October 4,2004) (10/04)

Recent springs of hope in quotable quotes

Here are some notable September quotes:

``Many baseball fans raised their voices in support of our cause. I pray that their support will bear fruit in the near future and make professional baseball a truly fan-oriented sport,'' said Atsuya Furuta, head of the Professional Baseball Players' Association. If there is such a thing as an ``Outside-the-Park MVP Award,'' it should definitely go to Furuta. Fans were enthralled by his hit as a pinch hitter when marathon negotiations with management prevented him from playing a full game.



Jun Hiromichi won the bronze medal in the men's 800-meter wheelchair race at the Athens Paralympics. He became paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a motorbike accident at age 15. ``I almost died once,'' he said. ``I would be doing injustice to life itself if I don't live out my life with joy.''


Three years have passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Tasuku Nakamura lost his son, Takuya, who worked at a bank in the World Trade Center building. Nakamura said: ``Just as my son had me as his father, every 9/11 victim had his or her family and loved ones. We human beings must try to use this kind of imagination.''


Costa Rica's highest court has ruled that the government's support of the U.S. war in Iraq was in violation of the Constitution and ordered the government to withdraw the support. A university student, who instituted this litigation against the Costa Rican government, was quoted as saying, ``The government may lose its credibility now, but the people of Costa Rica will regain the trust of the world.''


Yoshiharu Habu, a shogi champion, wrote to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to appeal for leniency for former chess world champion Bobby Fischer when the latter was detained by Japanese immigration authorities. Habu wrote: ``He is a Mozart of the chess world. The chess moves he has made will remain in all their timeless brilliance 100 years from now.''


At 84, Kimani Nganga Maruge of Kenya is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest elementary school first-grader. ``I am happy to be able to study with youngsters who are like my family,'' he said. His dream is to go all the way to university and become a veterinarian.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 1(IHT/Asahi: October 2,2004) (10/02)

Low-key Closing Ceremony hit the right note

Watching the Athens Paralympics Closing Ceremony live on TV before dawn Wednesday, I heard a recurring melody that sounded vaguely familiar. Low and somber, it gradually built up to a crescendo.



I realized it was ``Adagio for Strings'' by the American composer Samuel Barber. The melody was also used as background music in the movie ``Platoon,'' an Oliver Stone classic about the Vietnam War.


The program of the Closing Ceremony was substantially altered from the original to mourn for the loss of seven high school students who died in a traffic accident on their way to watch the Games. The music fit the occasion.


Here's what happened: The athletes entered the stadium; Paralympic officials made their speeches; Beijing was introduced as the next host; and then the Flame went out.

The low-key ceremony lasted about one hour. There were no high-tech gimmicks. Some athletes and spectators probably wanted something flashier. But I personally welcomed the simplicity. The atmosphere felt refreshing, with a breath of ancient times.


Two big sporting events, running consecutively in Athens from Aug. 13, are now over. During the Games, there were the usual laments about problems caused by the overgrown Games and doping.

However, the efforts of many dedicated volunteers who supported the events and athletes aiming for their finest performances-with or without disabilities-were a source of inspiration and encouragement to those who followed the Games coverage. The installation of elevators on the Acropolis was a welcome new gift for people in wheelchairs.


Next February, Nagano will host the 2005 Special Olympics World Winter Games for the mentally disabled. I hope Japan will inherit the spirit of challenge that was displayed in all forms, under the symbol of olive branches, this summer in Athens.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 30(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2004) (10/01)

Artist rewriting baseball history with his bat

As Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners closes in on George Sisler's single-season hit record, the names of some of baseball's forgotten but great major league players spring to mind. With his every hit, the dusty pages of major league baseball history are being turned.



Sisler set his record of 257 hits in 1920. But there were a few stories to be told about Sisler. The U.S. media dubbed him a ``legendary player without a legend.''

Perhaps this is because he was dwarfed by contemporary players like ``baseball saint'' Ty Cobb and home run king Babe Ruth.

Another possible reason could be that when Sisler set the record, it was inconceivable that it would stand more than 80 years.


Commenting on Ichiro's run, Sisler's son, Dave Sisler, said: ``He (father George) was a very humble man ... We're very happy he is getting some attention. This record has sat in the background a long time. It's a crime.

``He would have been the first in line to congratulate Ichiro,'' the junior Sisler added.


Of the 10 all-time single-season hit record holders, most have been inducted into American baseball's Hall of Fame. But second-place Lefty O'Doul is a notable exception.

O'Doul first came to Japan in 1931 as a member of a major league all-star team.

He soon became a frequent visitor and a popular coach to Japanese student baseball players. He was eventually inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame for his coaching efforts and his part in establishing the nation's professional baseball league.


Just the other day, Ichiro surpassed the fifth-place record of 250 hits set in 1922 by Rogers Hornsby who is said to be the best right-handed batter in major league history. During his career, he took the title of leading hitter seven times, averaged better than 0.400 three times, and won a triple batting crown twice.


Ichiro is an artist with a bat. Watching him rewrite history by overtaking and then surpassing some of the greatest batters in major league baseball history is just thrilling.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 29(IHT/Asahi: September 30,2004) (09/30)

New Koizumi Cabinet falls flat as `final jump'

The ``sandantobi,'' or triple jump, used to be called ho-su-janpu in Japanese-a corruption of the English ``hop, step and jump.'' Mikio Oda, a triple-jump gold medalist at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928, is credited with giving this sport the Japanese name of sandantobi.



In the triple jump, the first hop is the most crucial part. The hop must not be too high. The higher the leap, the less forward propulsion you get, and this takes away the speed and momentum you need.

I thought about this rule as I reflected on the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Did he take too high a leap at the start of his administration?


I can appreciate his effort to defy the ``gravity'' that was his Liberal Democratic Party. But if the reshuffle of his Cabinet last year was the ``step,'' there is no denying that his promised reforms have since lost steam. And, as if pulled by that gravity, the leap has proven short, too. His just-formed Cabinet may be said to represent his final jump.


An old tanka poem says:

``The arrival of autumn is not visible to the eye, but you realize it with shock from the sound of the winds.''

You hear the winds and suddenly know autumn is here. This is a common sensation when seasons change.

Koizumi has always had a way with surprising the nation by introducing some ``fresh air'' into his Cabinet lineup and the selection of party executives. But this time, there was little surprise in the new lineup unveiled in autumn rain. This was despite the fact that the party's biggest faction was reeling from a scandal over a 100-million-yen donation, which meant the stage was set perfectly for Koizumi to impress the nation with a daring, reformist Cabinet reshuffle.


The new lineup is said to pave the way for the privatization of postal services. But while postal privatization may be Koizumi's dearest dream, surely it is only one of many pending issues. There are still problems galore that Koizumi must tackle. He should be focusing on making his final, powerful jump.


Like the weather, the political situation is oppressive. A haiku by Gyotai Kato says: ``Autumn rain/ Falls on my listless face.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 28(IHT/Asahi: September 29,2004) (09/29)

Impetuous Francoise Sagan epitomized youth

In the 1950s, France set global trends in a number of fields, from literature, the arts and thought to movies and fashion.

Perhaps, one of the reasons the world enthused so wildly about a novel written by an 18-year-old female French student in the middle of that decade was that people were charmed by French products as a whole.



Francoise Sagan's first novel, ``Bonjour Tristesse,'' was published in France in 1954.

The next year, it became a worldwide best seller as translations in English, Japanese and other languages came out.

The novel's heroine is a 17-year-old girl, and the author uses a cool touch to paint her in the dappled light of youth-the explosion of youth and then psychological swings to indolence and cruelty.

 フランソワーズ・サガンの『悲しみよ こんにちは』は54年にフランスで出版され、翌年には英訳、邦訳などが出て世界的ベストセラーになった。17歳の女の子が主人公で、青春の輝き、倦怠(けんたい)、残酷さなど揺れ動く心理が覚めた文体で描かれる。

The title comes from a poem by Paul Eluard, which begins ``Adieu tristesse/ Bonjour Tristesse.'' It dogged Sagan's life to the end. As newspapers in France and elsewhere reported her death last week, they ran headlines featuring ``Bonjour'' and ``Tristesse.''

 題名はP・エリュアールの詩からだ。冒頭にその詩を掲げる。「悲しみよ さようなら/悲しみよ こんにちは……」。この題名が生涯彼女につきまとった。先週の彼女の死に際しても、フランスをはじめ世界中の新聞の見出しに「こんにちは」と「悲しみ」があふれた。

A prolific writer who produced many novels and dramas, Sagan also lived freely and self-destructively-indulging in drink, narcotics and gambling.

She got into traffic accidents and her broken marriages left her traumatized. As a French paper put it, ``She sped through her life.''

Another mourned her death, saying, ``Her life stood for something greater than Sagan-as a writer, as a woman and as someone who represented the age in which she lived.''


A passage of Paul Eluard's poem, translated into Japanese by poet Makoto Ooka, comes to mind: ``Aging is a process for you to organize your youth as you go through the years.''

Sagan staked her youth on Eluard's words, but she probably did not take the trouble of ``organizing her youth'' over the years.

 詩人の大岡信さんが紹介するエリュアールの詩の一節を思い浮かべる。「年をとる それはおのれの青春を 歳月の中で組織することだ」。サガンはエリュアールの言葉に青春を託しながら「歳月の中で組織する」ことをついにしなかったのではないか。

Even so, Sagan will continue to live as the mirror of a certain age and youth for many people.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 27(IHT/Asahi: September 28,2004) (09/28)

The good and the bad of the open U.S. system

Americans often say that ``anyone can grow up to be president'' of their country. They are alluding to their country's openness.

Over 50 years ago, Adlai Stevenson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, warned however that the openness of the American system involved risks. In 1952, he said, ``In America, any boy may become president, and I suppose that's just the risk he takes.''



Stevenson was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1956. The same year, a young Bill Clinton was able to watch television in his home for the first time.

At 10, young Clinton was enraptured by movies and baseball games involving the New York Yankees. But for him, nothing seemed more exciting than the Republican and Democratic party conventions.

Despite the Democratic Party's endorsement, Stevenson was less than enthusiastic about running for the White House-a fact the young Clinton was unable to comprehend.


Clinton's father died when he was just a small child. After his mother's remarriage, he grew up under an abusive stepfather who was an alcoholic and often resorted to domestic violence.

In his autobiography ``My Life,'' Clinton details how, despite his background, he managed to ascend to America's highest post. (A Japanese translation has been published by The Asahi Shimbun.)

The book also makes much about America's grass-roots democracy.


At schools, students are encouraged to take an interest in politics through specially organized classes and extracurricular activities.

Students make policies, give speeches and conduct election campaigns. They have many chances to be involved in such ``mock politics.''

Those who become friends in these activities later work together when they enter the political world for real.


This is a splendid way to raise the next generation of politicians. Even so, it is not without some problems. In his book, Clinton says it was not until the second half of his college years that he read the philosophical works of Kant, Kierkegaard, Hegel and Nietzsche for the first time.

Both in practice and spirit, the American school system is primarily devoted to giving students practical skills. Perhaps this approach stems from an unwavering belief that religious faith, not philosophy, is what props up individuals from within as they get along.


The race for the White House is entering the homestretch. While watching the contest, we should keep in mind the dangers inherent in the U.S. political system as well as the superpower's vast potential.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 21(IHT/Asahi: September 27,2004) (09/27)

Japanese homes have lost their tatami spirit

It was still early for lunchtime, but a notice posted outside a restaurant caught my attention. It said: ``Fresh handmade soba (buckwheat noodles).''

I parted the noren curtain hung over the threshold, saw the place was not yet busy, and took a table in a section where the raised floor formed a platform.



The buckwheat came from Hokkaido, I was told. Savoring the noodle's delicate fragrance, I was somewhat reminded of newly laid tatami mats that were still fresh and green.

Soba and tatami go together well, not just because of their olfactory appeal. It's the sort of harmony you wouldn't be conscious of if you were lounging in an overstuffed sofa. The restaurant's tatami were not new. But a light press with my palms brought back nostalgic sensations from the days when tatami was the standard flooring material everywhere.


The German architect Walter Gropius studied Japanese architecture first-hand 50 years ago. Praising the aesthetic simplicity of the tatami-based lifestyle, he observed to the effect that the Japanese needed neither chairs nor beds because of the ergonomic harmony created by tatami.


Gropius was the first principal of the Bauhaus School, Germany's most avant-garde art and design school that was founded during the pre-war period to seek the integration of art and technology. Noting he had heard many Japanese argue in favor of doing away with tatami altogether, Gropius warned of the danger of ``forgetting tradition and rushing to switch to something new.''


In an old Japanese tragicomic movie about the emergence of modern ferroconcrete apartment complexes, the protagonist-played by Daisuke Kato, if my memory is correct-grumbles in exasperation: ``The word katei (family) is written with the Chinese characters for home and garden.''

As more single-family homes were replaced with apartment blocks without individual gardens, tatami also disappeared from many Japanese homes.


Woven with straw or rush, tatami effectively represented a bit of nature in the house. Perhaps they provided each old Japanese home with an additional garden.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 24(IHT/Asahi: September 25,2004) (09/25)

Connecting the dots of a wartime picture

Several major developments seem to have occurred in quick succession. I cannot see clearly how they connect, but it bothers me that they seem to be deeply interrelated.



U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said during a recent BBC interview that he considered the invasion of Iraq ``illegal.'' Although he rephrased his opinion in his speech before the U.N. General Assembly-``The rule of law is at risk around the world''-he effectively pointed his finger at the United States as being responsible for jeopardizing the rule of law.


U.S. President George W. Bush, in his turn at the General Assembly podium, said that the proper response to spreading violence ``is not to retreat, it is to prevail.''

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi assured Bush that he respected the U.S. government for its firm commitment to Iraq's reconstruction while maintaining international cooperation.

In his General Assembly speech, Koizumi said Japan was seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council.


A vast area that stretches from the Korean Peninsula to Africa is described as an ``arc of instability.'' Washington wants to relocate some U.S. military command centers from the U.S. mainland to Japan, so that U.S. forces could be more effectively deployed in conflict- and terror-infested parts of the world. This plan goes way beyond the framework of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.


Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) was U.S. president when the treaty was signed in 1960. When he left office the following year, he said: ``We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.'' (A Japanese translation of this speech can be found in ``Kaikoroku,'' an Eisenhower memoir, published by Misuzu Shobo.)


Koizumi's private advisory panel reportedly intends to call for an ``easing'' of the nation's three basic principles that effectively ban arms exports. This would facilitate joint military research with the United States. Wouldn't the world see this as the rise of an ominous, Japan-U.S. military-industry complex?

There are signs of drastic changes. But, as usual, Koizumi provides no satisfactory explanation.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 23(IHT/Asahi: September 24,2004) (09/24)

Is Ptolemy's view of the heavens resurgent?

Enunciating his theory of geocentricism in the second century, the Greek geographer, astronomer and astrologer Ptolemy wrote: ``The things we see around the Earth ... become plausibly explainable only when we assume that the Earth is located in the center of the heavens.'' (A Japanese translation of his work ``Almagest'' has been published by Koseisha Koseikaku Co.)

Geocentricism reigned for more than 1,000 years until Copernicus' theory of heliocentricism knocked it down.



But a newspaper report this week made me wonder for a moment, ``Has Ptolemy's theory made a comeback?''

When 348 fourth- to sixth-graders at public elementary schools were recently asked about the relationship between the sun and the Earth by researchers at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, 42 percent replied, ``The sun rotates around the Earth.''


Certainly, it looks that way. But there are things that they should first know. To know that the Earth is one of many planets and that the sun is just one of the numerous fixed stars makes such a difference. This knowledge also leads children to think about the tininess and irreplaceability of the Earth which, for many, is of unlimited proportions.

This bit of information will also impress the erring children with the unreliability of the results of visual observation.


When asked where the sun sets, 73 percent said the west, with 15 percent citing the east and 2 percent the south. The rates of correct answers tended to go down with children living in urban areas.

It is easy to find a reason for this phenomenon. For those living where there is no horizon, seeing how the sun looks just as it sinks below the horizon is a rare experience, even though they often see the sun go out of sight behind buildings. Moreover, those living in densely populated areas often find themselves in a windowless room at that decisive moment.


Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture is the westernmost part of the Japanese archipelago. The islet's west head is called Irizaki, a name which would normally be pronounced Nishizaki (west promontory).

Similarly, the east cape is named Agarizaki (east promontory), though the normal pronunciation in accordance with the spelling would be Higashizaki.

These place names serve as convenient indicators of direction to visitors to the islet if they have a knowledge of Chinese characters.

On the other hand, it is worrisome that places with confusing names as to direction seem to be increasing now.


Copernicus put forward his final version of heliocentricism in ``Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs.'' (A Japanese translation is available from the Iwanami paperback library.)

In the book, he refers to the heavens as something ``that unfailingly encompasses all beautiful things.''

Let us sow the seeds of astronomical interest in young minds. We can expect a bounteous harvest from such an enterprise.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 22(IHT/Asahi: September 23,2004) (09/23)

Exciting Paralympics beat deserted ballparks

There was dancing around a huge tree placed in the stadium. People in wheelchairs accompanied those with impaired vision. Some of those present had been injured in war.



The Paralympics opened in Athens last Friday. In his Opening Ceremony address, International Paralympic Committee President Phil Craven quoted the Greek philosopher Democritus: ``To overcome oneself is the first and best of all victories.'' I am sure these were meant as words of welcome and encouragement to all who had overcome their various disabilities to gather in Athens.


Democritus is famous not only for his atomic theory, but also for his extraordinary erudition. According to ``Puraton Izen-no Tetsugakusha-tachi'' (Pre-Platonic philosophers), published by Iwanami Shoten, Plato knew he could never match Democritus, and tried to burn all the books written by Democritus that he could lay his hands on. But Plato abandoned this plan after someone reminded him that since Democritus' works were already disseminated widely, there would be no point in burning just some of them.


It is said that Democritus was nicknamed ``Pentathlete'' and ``All-around athlete.'' He went blind shortly before he died, and he is said to have noted that what one could ``see'' with one's heart was far truer and more beautiful than what one saw with one's eyes.


Pro baseball stadiums in Japan form a sorry contrast to the Paralympics stadium filled with festivity and happy laughter. Deserted ballparks are a desolate sight, but I suppose this cannot be helped if the sport is to be freed from the sort of mentality that allows a club owner to dismiss ballplayers as ``nobodies'' and the commissioner to shrug aside his responsibility.


Sept. 19 is the anniversary of the death of Masaoka Shiki, a poet who played an active role in promoting baseball in Japan. One poem goes: ``Those three bases are now filled with people/ My excitement mounts/ In spite of myself.''

I hope for a swift reopening of dialogue that will bring excitement back to the ballparks.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 19(IHT/Asahi: September 22,2004) (09/22)

Life is often fullest when pared to the basics

What do people do when they realize that their remaining years are dwindling?

Some embark on diverse personal projects to make the most of their lives. Others switch to simple lifestyles by shedding things they can do without.



Koji Nakano, an author who died this summer, spent his last years shedding things he no longer needed. As he put it, ``I don't watch television, and I hate talking on the phone. I stay away from funerals and weddings. I turn down all invitations to parties held at night. The word processor and the Internet play no part in my life.''

But there were things he could not easily abandon, such as the innumerable books he owned.


Eventually, Nakano made an anguished decision to sell part of his cherished collection. ``One by one, I wrote down the names of the books to go,'' he recalled in ``Oino Komichi'' (Pathway of old age), a collection of essays published by Bungei Shunju.

The decision to sell became heartbreaking when the process of selection reached sets of the complete works of German authors. To Nakano, who had started out as a scholar of German literature, these works were his own flesh and blood. ``To bid farewell to them was literally as painful as hurting my body.''


Even though his goal was a simple lifestyle, he also could not sacrifice the joy of having a few drinks in the evening.

In the afternoon, he ate nothing for a snack and limited his intake of water to ``condition'' himself for the delightful bout to come. ``While conditioning myself this way, I think of what is in store after dark. It is a prospect that causes my heart to leap,'' he wrote. By his own account, drinking alone, with ``my dogs sitting close by,'' was the most blissful time of his day.


Nakano spent the rest of his time immersed in the world of Japanese, Chinese and Roman classics. He set a model of how to live a simple yet luxurious life in one's last years.

Living such a life rewarded him with an insight into the distortions of contemporary society.

Numerous warnings he issued before his death ring so true that nobody can dismiss them as ``what an old man keeps on saying.''


Let me quote a poem by Shuji Shimada, a poet who died just the other day: ``I would like to acquire/ The sharp eyes of the aged/ Who has become a total dependent.''

This poem teaches us that the aged should be respected if only for their sharp eyes alone. Monday was Respect for the Aged Day.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 20(IHT/Asahi: September 21,2004) (09/21)

Why does the world allow children to suffer?

Isadora Duncan, who sensationalized the 20th-century dance scene and is known as the mother of modern dance, once noted: ``So long as little children are allowed to suffer, there is no true love in this world.''



A number of children were victims in a hostage crisis at a school in the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia. Scores of youngsters were also injured and most likely left deeply traumatized. The tragedy made me think of Duncan-she lost two of her children at once.


According to ``Waga Shogai'' (My life) published by Fuzanbo, Duncan often experienced flashes of extrasensory perception. While touring Russia in January 1913, she was on her way to her hotel in a sleigh when she ``saw'' a funeral cortege with two rows of coffins. What she saw was only in her imagination, but she was convinced the deceased were all children. That evening, Duncan was suddenly inspired to dance to Chopin's ``Funeral March.''


Three months later, her small son and daughter-neither was yet 10 years old-were killed in Paris when the car they were traveling in plunged into the river Seine. The tragedy shattered her, and for a while she hovered between life and death. She noted later that, when confronted with true sorrow, people don't know how to verbalize their feelings, nor are they able to express themselves by action.


Duncan continued to blame herself for not having stopped her children from going out that day. I should imagine bereaved families in North Ossetia will also continue to blame themselves, thinking there must have been something they could have done to avert the tragedy. Their grief will never end.


I am stunned by the injustice in this world that has allowed children to suffer in Beslan.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 5(IHT/Asahi: September 20,2004) (09/20)

Everybody needs a space to call their own

Kyoji Mitarai, whose daughter Satomi was killed in June by her female classmate at a Sasebo elementary school in Nagasaki Prefecture, recently issued a statement. It read like a letter to Satomi: ``I still miss you so much. A feeling of desolation bowls me over.''

Mitarai's choice of words eloquently conveys his emotion. Yet, his grief must be too profound for words.



More than 100 days after the tragedy, the Nagasaki Family Court decided Wednesday to commit the girl to a juvenile training and education facility. As I read a summary of the court decision, the expression ``ibasho'' (one's own space) caught my attention.


To paraphrase the decision: For this girl, who was clumsy with face-to-face communication, her own Web site and a diary she exchanged with her classmates provided her the only ``space'' where she felt she could safely express herself and reaffirm her own presence. When someone else posted comments on her bulletin board the girl took this as an intrusion into her space. Her anger led to the deed she committed.

But, the court qualified, Satomi's comments were definitely not of a nature that would evoke murderous rage.


In the fatal kidnapping of two brothers-a 4-year-old and 3-year-old-in Oyama, Tochigi Prefecture, the body of the older boy was recovered Thursday, two days after his brother's. The name of the river the boys were thrown into is Omoi. In English this translates as ``thinking'' or ``feeling.''

It is so tragically ironic that a river with such a name became the scene of this exceptionally vicious crime.

I could not abhor this crime more. At the same time, I cannot help wondering with deep regret why these little boys were never given a safer environment.


In ``Gendai no Esupuri Bessatsu'' (Special edition of Contemporary Wit magazine), Kenji Iwatsuki notes: ``Having one's own space is of the same significance to adults and children alike. If a parent feels he or she has no space of his or her own in the home, the kids are bound to feel the same, too.''


Every person needs his or her own space, but it cannot be found easily.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 17(IHT/Asahi: September 18,2004) (09/18)

Justification for invading Iraq collapses

Perhaps I should say U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent statement before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was only to be expected or made at long last, or both.

``It turned out that we have not found any stockpiles (of weapons of mass destruction),'' Powell conceded. ``I think it is unlikely that we will find any stockpiles.''

This is tantamount to an admission by a U.S. government's key person that President George W. Bush's justification for invading Iraq has finally collapsed.



It was already obvious that Bush's justification, which hinged on the existence of the WMD, was tenuous at best. But even though the U.S. public's attention may be focused now on the presidential election in November, the Americans would be wrong not to remind themselves once again of the magnitude of damage wrought by their government's pre-emptive strike against Iraq.

The Iraqi body count is estimated at more than 10,000. Countless Iraqis have been injured. The invading troops have also suffered a heavy toll. The United States alone has lost more than 1,000 of its own soldiers.


In ``The Fog of War,'' which won this year's Academy Award for Documentary Feature, Robert McNamara talks of the ``foggy''nature of war. The former Pentagon chief during the Vietnam War said, ``We see incorrectly or we see only half of the story at times.'' He also notes to the effect that while he is proud of what he has achieved, he also regrets the mistakes he has made.


McNamara goes on to quote from the British poet T.S. Eliot's ``Four Quartets,'' saying it expresses his present sentiment in a way. The poem goes:

``We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.''

 そして英国の詩人T・S・エリオットを引用する。「人は探究をやめない そして探究の果てに元の場所に戻り、初めてその地を理解する」。ある意味で今の自分がそうだ、と。

I certainly acknowledge the value of McNamara's words in this film. However, I wonder if he has ever thought about those many people, to whom any chance of exploring or knowing the place where they started has been forever denied by war.


I want to put the same question to Bush as well as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who continues to support Bush's war of invasion.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 16(IHT/Asahi: September 17,2004) (09/17)

Private musings on Monet's love of poplars

Claude Monet often painted a row of poplar trees. Perhaps the best known of these works is his picture of four poplars in 1891.

The trees were due to be felled. But Monet is said to have paid to have the job postponed so he could finish his painting.



The slender tree trunks, which are reflected in a body of water close to where they are standing, is almost a perfect geometrical composition. Brimming with Monet's typical sensibilities, the painting conveys the subtle movement of branches and water.

The picture captures how the four poplars looked to Monet before they were felled. In a sense, it is a picture of something that has died.


Strong winds whipped up by Typhoon No. 18 took a heavy toll on a row of poplars on the campus of Hokkaido University, blowing down nearly half the trees. Newspaper photographs show the storm made a shambles of the famous stand of poplars. Apparently, no one was around to witness their last moments, as Monet did in his painting. The school says it will try to resuscitate the famous row.


Etymologically, the word poplar is derived from the Latin populus, meaning people. In ancient Rome, people are said to have often gathered for meetings in the shade of stately poplars.

As if reflecting Roman practice, poplars are often associated with humans. The trees have an average life expectancy of between 60 and 70 years, much like humans,

A poem by Takashi Okai goes: ``With the summer departing/ The declining poplar branch by my window/ Seems like my older sister.''


Once, I came across a row of poplars at a spot where inhuman acts took place-that is, the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

The poplars, reaching toward the blue sky, are said to have been planted by internees. The tall trees gave the place a peaceful look. But to me, it only added to the grimness imparted by the innumerable items of memorabilia on display in the darkened rooms.


The poplar tree is like a basket full of various human thoughts. You could say it's a basket that also stirs the human memory.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 15(IHT/Asahi: September 16,2004) (09/16)

Mutual distrust reinforces nuclear addiction

Six years after winning the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize, medical missionary and theologian Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) appealed for the abolition of nuclear weapons in a broadcast from Radio Oslo. Addressing a world torn by the Cold War and increasingly fearful of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, Schweitzer packed his appeal with timeless insight.



Not only did he urge the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union--then the only nations possessing nuclear arms--to abandon their weapons, but he also warned of the frightening consequences of such weapons falling into the hands of unscrupulous troublemakers.

According to ``Kaku-no Kasa-ni Owareta Sekai'' (A world shadowed by a nuclear umbrella), a book from Heibonsha, Schweitzer said to the effect that once a crack formed in a dam, that dam was doomed to burst.


Since the end of the Cold War, the ``dam bursting'' seems to have been escalating rapidly. The existence of a widespread network of black marketers, dealing in equipment and information related to nuclear weapons, has come to light.

In his confession this year, Abdul Qadeer Khan, dubbed the ``father of Pakistani nuclear development,'' revealed a part of his underground operations.


Corporations in more than 20 countries are said to have been involved in Khan's black market. But the ``real purchasers'' were nations, and named among them were North Korea and Iran. Given the possibility of terrorist organizations getting hold of those weapons, it is truly chilling to imagine ``ultimate weapons'' changing hands in the black market.


Schweitzer also lamented in his radio address: ``We live in a time when the good faith of people is doubted more than ever before. Expressions throwing doubt on the trustworthiness of each other are bandied back and forth.''

Our present time is no different. The mutual distrust of those who feel they must have nuclear weapons is throwing the world into fits of anxiety, and this in turn is further reinforcing the world's addiction to nuclear weaponry.


South Korea has admitted scientists conducted nuclear-related experiments. In North Korea, a massive explosion was reported recently. Even though this was apparently not a nuclear test, I worry about a deepening of mistrust.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 14(IHT/Asahi: September 15,2004) (09/15)

Today's problems making us `envy the future'

German philosopher Immanuel Kant died 200 years ago. On the anniversary of Kant's death, Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, offered flowers at his grave and said that Kant's views on law, morality and peace have not lost their relevance even in a time of war, in this case the conflict in Iraq.



Kant had advocated the abolition of standing armies in his essay ``Perpetual Peace.''

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica, a country with a constitutional ban on holding a standing army and thus committed to the doctrine of ``unarmed neutrality,'' has handed down a severe verdict to the Costa Rican government. It ruled that the executive branch acted against the spirit of the Constitution and international law when it supported the U.S.-led coalition's pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

The top court also ordered the government to demand that the country be stricken from the U.S. list of willing allies in Iraq.


It has been three years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Two wars have been launched in response to the terror strikes that sent shock waves throughout the world. Divisions have grown between those who sided with the United States against Iraq, and those who did not.

Key reasons cited for going to war with Iraq have lost their validity, but the fighting continues, taking a heavy civilian casualty toll.


The country that produced Kant also built up a mighty standing army and invaded its neighbors in the 20th century.

Walter Benjamin, a Jewish-German author, was driven to suicide by the Nazis. According to his writings, translated into Japanese and published by Shobunsha, someone who lived before his time said, ``One of the most noteworthy characteristics of human sentiment is that although individual humans live with many personal desires, the present does not make humanity as a whole envy the future.''


The present is of immeasurable importance to human beings. But does this still apply these days? Doesn't the succession of tragic events like war and terrorism make us long for the future?

The vicious cycle of hate and violence seems to be having a major impact on the sentiments of humankind as a whole.



--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 11(IHT/Asahi: September 14,2004) (09/14)

ETs phoning Earth? Somebody take the call!

Reuters reported Sept. 4: ``An unexplained radio signal from deep space could-just might be-contact from an alien civilization.'' The story excited astronomers around the world, as it was based on an earlier New Scientist magazine article that concluded the signal was from 1,000 light years away.



``The signal, coming from a point between the Pisces and Aries constellations, has been picked up three times by a telescope in Puerto Rico,'' Reuters said.

``New Scientist said the signal could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon or even a byproduct from the telescope itself,'' the story went on.


The mysterious signal, named SHGb02+14a, had been analyzed by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), an institute set up at the University of California, Berkeley, to catch extraterrestrial radio signals from civilizations that may exist in outer space.


At the time the New Scientist and Reuters articles appeared, expectations were high for discovering extraterrestrial life because the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had just announced the first discovery of a new class of ``non-gaseous'' planets-probably ``rocky'' like Earth-beyond the solar system.

But SETI was quick to disclaim the magazine and wire service reports as ``exaggerated,'' noting that even though the signal was on the institute's ``best candidates'' list, the possibility of its being a message from an extraterrestrial civilization was practically nil.


But what if it were indeed a message from outer space? The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has agreed not to respond until a decision has been reached by an international conference.

It is exciting, though, to imagine SETI withholding information while secretly making preparations for an IAU conference.


However, even if Earth were to respond, it would be a millennium before the response reaches the signal's sender-an astronomically lengthy lag in communication indeed.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 10(IHT/Asahi: September 11,2004) (09/11)

Mizukami wrote of the eternal here and now

Three years ago, I received a surprise letter from novelist Tsutomu Mizukami, who died Wednesday at age 85. Mizukami wrote: ``I was honored that you made use of what I wrote in `Riyaka wo Hiite' (Pulling a two-wheeled cart) in your column about the day Japan lost World War II.''



In a column about Aug. 15, 1945, I had quoted a passage from Mizukami's work of that title. His letter arrived a few days after I had sent him a short thank-you note and a copy of the newspaper in which the column appeared.


I never had a chance to interview Mizukami in person, but I managed to attend a function years ago when he gave a speech. My impression of him was just as I had imagined from his works and television appearances. I recall sensing his passion and intensity, coiled deep within his handsome and serene exterior.


Shinroku Komatsu, a literary critic, observes in ``Showa Bungaku Zenshu'' (Collection of Showa literature): ``I once described Mizukami's literary style as `poetry of daily life.' His works are haunting lullabies from his hometown and vagabond songs. They are also poetic compositions about life as a pilgrimage, and an elegy for a Japan that is no more.''

Mizukami's words are simple but never hollow, Komatsu adds. They are deep and packed with substance.


On the day of Japan's defeat, Mizukami did not hear the emperor's radio broadcast of surrender. He was pulling a two-wheeled cart up a hill in his native Wakasa region (present-day Fukui Prefecture), transporting an invalid in sweltering heat.

In ``Hachigatsu Jugonichi to Watashi'' (August 15 and I), a paperback from Kadokawa Shoten, Mizukami writes: ``People do not live any `historic day.' People always live through the here and now, with moments of hard feelings, hatred, love and pleasure in their daily lives.''


With his sharp yet kindly insight that sensed the breathing and deep feelings of people who struggled through lives of total anonymity, Mizukami portrayed the here and now of human existence.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 9(IHT/Asahi: September 10,2004) (09/10)

Baseball players take on arrogant owners

Pitcher Yutaka Enatsu of the Hiroshima Carp threw only 21 pitches in the final game of the Japan Series in 1979. But one play during his brief appearance made legend, a play still vividly remembered by many people. Of all the memorable scenes from the annual series, fans would single it out as the most moving.

When the veteran closer took the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning, his team was a run ahead of its opponents, the Kintetsu Buffaloes. With one out, the bases were loaded. He was facing a Buffalo batter named Shigeru Ishiwata.



The critical moment came as he was about to deliver his second pitch to Ishiwata. Recounting the episode later, Enatsu told nonfiction writer Junji Yamagiwa: ``When I looked at Ishiwata before releasing the ball, I saw him move his bat. I thought Ishiwata was doing what any batter would do now. I sensed it at once, and in a split second, I decided I should change my delivery.'' (The quote appears in a collection of Yamagiwa's sports and nonfiction writings, published by Bungei Shunju.)

Enatsu was referring to a squeeze bunt by Ishiwata, of course. Thanks to his split-second decision, the curveball he delivered sailed past the Buffalo's bat.

 「石渡を見たとき、バットがスッと動いた。来た! そういう感じ。時間にすれば百分の一秒のことかもしれん」(『山際淳司スポーツ・ノンフィクション傑作集成』文芸春秋)。ぎりぎりの一瞬でスクイズを外した球は、曲がるように落ち、バットをすり抜けた。

It was a scene that made pulses race even among people who do not follow baseball news.

Conventional wisdom says that if the first-ever strike planned by Japanese professional baseball players goes on for a long time, the Japan Series, the stage for splendid plays like Enatsu's, might be affected.

Fearful of a backlash from angry fans, the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association agonized over its decision to go on strike.


Professional baseball would cease to exist if there were no players in the ballpark. So players are as important to the game as fans. But the owners still seem to look down on players, as indicated by the use of the derogatory word takaga (mere, or at best) by a former owner.

If they feel that way about players, they must be feeling the same way about baseball itself. It is no surprise that the ball clubs, with their unyielding attitude, seem to have been the party mainly responsible in the dispute for driving players to the brink of launching the first-ever strike.


When Isoo Abe was a professor at Waseda University, he defined baseball as a sport that ``teaches the three virtues of wisdom, benevolence and courage.'' The first head of the school's baseball club believed that people could make good judgments when they were mentally as well as physically agile.

To quote further from a book, ``Abe Isoo,'' published by Ronsosha, he made other remarks about baseball.

``Because baseball is a sport that requires cooperation, those who play the game must bend their wills to a degree,'' he said.

On another occasion, he observed: ``Whether a batter succeeds in getting over the fear of being hit by a ball is a matter of whether you have courage or not.''


Those observations from a century ago are still quotable enough. I hope that not just the players in the dispute but the ball executives will read them closely.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 8(IHT/Asahi: September 9,2004) (09/09)

Weathering the storms in Okinawa and Florida

According to Okinawan-born poet Baku Yamanoguchi, people in Tokyo are prone to overstatement. By way of example, he wrote in an essay that when a slightly strong breeze blows, Tokyoites make a fuss over it, calling it a gale-force wind.



In Okinawa, wind speeds of 180 kph are not uncommon. Sometimes even, people are trapped in their homes for three or four days at a time.

In his essay ``Bofu-e-no Kyoshu'' (Nostalgia for violent winds), Yamanoguchi recalls how he helped his father bolster the storm doors with timber and rope made of hemp.

Even though Okinawans are used to the work, having to do it as often as they have in 2004, a year that has seen an unusually high number of typhoons pass over the island chain, must be a burden to them.


Okinawa Prefecture is not unlike the state of Florida, which is hit by hurricanes almost every year. As with typhoons, considerably more hurricanes than usual seem to have developed this year, which is why people have started to call it ``an unlucky year for Florida.''


Still fresh in the memory is Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the most damaging hurricane ever. Many people lost their homes, and some towns emerged from the storm as virtual ghost towns.

All told, the damage the cyclone caused was estimated at $25 billion (2.75 trillion yen). It was a presidential election year, and some people theorized that the slow response of President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, helped blow away his bid for re-election.


Hurricane Frances, which started to pound Florida over the weekend, is considered an especially powerful cyclone. Probably, many people are recalling ``the nightmare of Andrew'' more than a decade ago.

A local paper ran a story about a group of Floridians who, instead of following evacuation orders, popped champagne bottles for a ``hurricane party'' in an attempt to ease their fears.


Meanwhile, Typhoon No. 18, a big and very potent storm, has begun to unleash its fury on Okinawa.

As Yamanoguchi puts it, the sturdily built Okinawan houses ``dare to contend with typhoon winds and rain,'' rather than being ``attacked.'' I am sure that the spiritual toughness of Okinawans, as shown in their houses, will help them weather the latest storm.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 6(IHT/Asahi: September 8,2004) (09/08)

Awful acts of terrorism shock the world

The TV screen suddenly showed an image of a near-naked child dashing behind a big, camouflaged armored vehicle that was parked on the school grounds. Soon, soldiers began running, preparing to fire their rifles, and then another child came running.

Images of children in their underwear in the unlikely company of soldiers holding their weapons streamed continuously across TV screens as the siege in North Ossetia, a republic in southern Russia, came to a dramatic end on Friday.



With explosives and gunfire ringing out, the school was transformed into a battlefield. As I watched the conflict and thought of the numerous children held hostage, I recalled a photograph taken on a Vietnamese battlefield.


The Pulitzer-prize winning picture showed a naked girl running down the center of a road, her face turned toward the camera, crying as she held her hands at an oblique angle. Around her were boys and girls, and black smoke from bombs rose beyond them.

Nick Ut's photograph captured naked Vietnamese children fleeing napalm bombing, even if only by a few steps.


An article written by novelist and psychiatrist Nada Inada last year also comes to mind. He referred to Russian revolutionary Boris Savinkov Ropshin's book ``The Pale Horse,'' saying: ``The terrorist (in the book) decided against throwing a bomb at the prince's carriage when he saw children aboard. But such humanity is absent from what terrorists do these days and from the war on terror.''


The awful, tragic end to the hostage crisis seems to suggest that the school seizure capped a recent series of indiscriminate terrorist bombings in Russia of two commercial aircraft and the Moscow subway.

How the battle erupted last Friday is still unknown. But what the terrorists did to the children of North Ossetia is simply unforgivable.


Indiscriminate killings continue around the world, not just in Russia. I wonder if even a call for ``a minimum level of humanity''-keeping children at least away from the threat of weapons-will fall on deaf ears.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 4(IHT/Asahi: September 7,2004) (09/07)

Greece once again the `navel' of the world

Around 500 years ago, Italian artist Michelangelo painted arguably some of his best works on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The stunning paintings were restored some years ago and were returned to their former glory.

Just after the repair work had been finished, I had the chance to get a close-up view of the section called ``The Sibyl of Delphi'' atop scaffolding that had yet to be taken down.



The picture showed a medium, a young woman with sanguine skin and wide-open eyes. Her delicate lips were slightly parted as she issued a sibyl. The medium's chestnut-colored locks cascaded down her back.

The portrayal of youth is the most colorful and vivid among the august paintings that depict scenes from the Book of Genesis and The Last Judgment.


The sibyl's namesake Delphi is located at the foot of Mount Parnassos in central Greece. It was known as the place where Apollo let loose with his prophecies.

The Pythian Games, similar to the ancient Olympics, were held there. The ruins of the shrine and the stadium can still be found at Delphi.


Visitors to the museum there are quickly drawn to a stone called Omphalos, or navel. It is shaped like a giant hanging bell. The stone was so named because ancient Greeks are said to have thought that Delphi was the navel of the world.

That view was based on a myth that when Zeus released an eagle at each end of the world to find the center of the globe, the two birds met in Delphi.


Japanese often dismiss people or things that make no sense by saying, ``Chinpun kanpun,'' the English equivalent being: ``It's Greek to me.''

Probably, Apollo's sibyls, announced by the shrine maidens of Delphi, were verdicts that were mysteriously confusing and hard if not impossible to make out.

 意味のわからない言葉や、それを言う人のことを「ちんぷんかんぷん」という。珍紛漢紛などとも書く。英語では「It’s Greek to me」などともいう。デルフォイの巫女たちが媒介した神のお告げも、謎めいていて分かりにくかったのではないか。

Over the past three weeks, the words of Apollo, the god of prophecy and light, drew hot attention from all over the world, while Greece made its comeback as the ``navel'' of the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 29(IHT/Asahi: September 6,2004) (09/06)

Mr. President, history will be judged by results

Following the Republican Party's official nomination of George W. Bush as the presidential candidate and Dick Cheney as his running mate, the U.S. presidential election will be fought between these two and their Demoratic Party counterparts, John Kerry and John Edwards.

Prior to Bush's acceptance speech, however, one could not but notice his contradictory remarks concerning the war on terror.



Asked on NBC television whether he thought America could win its war on terror, Bush replied, ``I don't think you can win it.'' But in a speech the following day, the president said, ``But make no mistake about it, we are winning and we will win.''


Given that Bush obviously had no qualms about switching freely from one excuse to another for invading Iraq, it may well be that he had inadvertently uttered what he really thought.

One U.S. newspaper noted that ``the more he says it without proof of victory, the more likely it is that he will be the loser on Election Day.''


I watched Michael Moore's ``Fahrenheit 911'' which ``stars'' Bush and was billed by the director himself as ``a movie you should enjoy in a theater for two hours like any entertainment flick.''

The president's caricaturized portrayal evoked feelings of bathos and also caused me to worry about his weakness and spinelessness. However, I wouldn't call the endless scenes of people and towns being bombed and a weeping Iraqi woman screaming, ``I've arranged five funerals because of these bombings,'' entertainment.


The film reminded me of a memorable scene from Bob Woodward's ``Plan of Attack,'' a book that portrays sides of Bush's personality that are hard to capture on camera. (The book has been translated into Japanese as ``Kogeki Keikaku'' and is published by Nihon Keizai Shimbunsha.) It is the scene where Bush allows himself to smile in response to Woodward's observation that history is judged by results.


Woodward recalls: ``(Bush) said, `History,' and then he took his hands out of his pockets and kind of shrugged and extended his hands as if this was a long way off. And then he said, `History, we don't know, we'll be all dead.'''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 3(IHT/Asahi: September 4,2004) (09/04)

Wave of support revives a bookstore chain

Novelist Katai Tayama, whose writings include ``Futon'' and ``Inaka Kyoshi'' (Teacher in the countryside), worked as a live-in apprentice to a bookshop owner in Tokyo's Kyobashi district when he was a boy early in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

In ``Tokyo-no Sanju-nen'' (30 years in Tokyo), a paperback published by Iwanami Shoten, Tayama recalls making the rounds of the shop's customers, carrying loads of books on his back.

``Sometimes, I brought along a notebook or piece of paper listing the titles of books in demand, as I called on each bookshop on the main street.''



After he shifted from selling books to buying and ordering them as a customer, he wrote: ``Maruzen Bookstore's second floor, that cramped and murky second-floor showroom, ... that smiling clerk, those dusty shelves. ... In that second-floor showroom were displayed famous books that in their times had moved Europe.''


Tayama also reminisced that through Maruzen, the ``current'' of 19th century European thought continually spread its ripples of influence to an isolated island in the Far East.

One might add that not only European thought but also European culture lapped against Japan's shores in wave after wave once the nation's policy of isolation came to an end.


Even now in the 21st century when I visit a bookshop, I sometimes imagine that I am standing on the shores of a new era. There are racks laden flat with all kinds of books in every genre. While the contents vary from book to book, every volume represents a little wave in the sea of the present era.


Aoyama Book Center (ABC), a bookstore chain with seven outlets in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, folded in July after it was forced into bankruptcy by creditors. But the chain is now back in business again, thanks to one creditor that decided to support a petition for its rehabilitation, a petition started by customers who collected signatures because they badly missed ABC's unique selection of design- and photography-related books.


The shelves of the Roppongi store, which had been empty since the doors closed in July, were partially refilled Wednesday for a book fair organized to support the store's reopening.

In my mind, I pictured this little wave lapping together with other little waves, all eventually pounding against a broad seashore.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 2(IHT/Asahi: September 3,2004) (09/03)

Reporters even swam to get the news out

``You can't stop there. Huh? What? Earthquake?'' The person talking, a reporter at The Asahi Shimbun's head office in Osaka, was on the phone.

But the line went dead. It was around noon on Sept. 1, 1923.

The reporter was taking down an important political report coming in from Tokyo, a story on the formation of incoming Prime Minister Gonbei (or Gonno-hyoe)Yamamoto's new Cabinet.



The entire telephone network went down and the first bits of information on the earthquake came from railway officials.

Based on these reports, the Asahi head office in Osaka put out an extra at 2 p.m. The extra reported that a strong earthquake, with an intensity not experienced in recent years, had struck the Tokai district. Worst hit was the area surrounding Numazu on the Tokaido Highway. It went on to say that special express trains had come to a standstill.


Asahi reporters attempted to get more information from the military. But military officials, in a role reversal, asked reporters for news. They, too, were having trouble getting in touch with senior officials.

That evening, Asahi staff got news via a wireless report from a ship at anchor in Yokohama Port that a major earthquake had hit. Shortly after 9 p.m., more detailed information came through in another wireless report dispatched from the same boat by the chief of police in Kanagawa Prefecture to the governors of Osaka and Hyogo prefectures and the Asahi head office in Osaka.


The Asahi head office in Tokyo had gone up in flames, along with a great number of the city's buildings, as fire swept through the capital in the wake of the temblor. The paper's Tokyo reporters left for Osaka one after another, driven by a sense of mission to report the magnitude of the disaster.

Three reporters shared a car as they headed for Osaka. They swam across the Sagamigawa river in Kanagawa Prefecture because the bridge had been destroyed. After that, they had to walk.

According to one account, when a reporter complained to a colleague, ``You walk too fast,'' the latter retorted, ``We are not on a leisurely trip, the kind of trip made by Yaji-san and Kita-san (the heroes of an Edo Period comic travel tale by Jippensha Ikku). We are faced with a situation that makes it necessary to make haste.''

A number of similar arguments erupted as the journalists, hungry and fatigued, pushed on to get to their destination as soon as possible. They took a train later on, and arrived at the Asahi head office in Osaka on the morning of Sept. 4. The photographs they took from Tokyo were printed in an extra.


The Great Kanto Earthquake dealt a shock to the media, too. One serious problem that confronted them was that amid the dearth of information, rumors provoked the massacres of Koreans.

On the other hand, the rise of interest in the radio after the temblor led to the start of radio broadcasting two years later.


Phenomenal advances have been made in communications technology since then. Viewed from the vantage point of today, the difficulties that reporters experienced in obtaining information on the disastrous earthquake may seem almost incredible. Even so, we must not forget that the greatest risk lies in overconfidence.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 1(IHT/Asahi: September 2,2004) (09/02)

In Athens, the human face of the Olympics

If the Opening Ceremony is the face of the Olympic Games, then the Closing Ceremony represents the back. Watching the back of the Athens Olympics as the torch went out and darkness enveloped the stadium, I jogged my memory of the Games I had watched or listened to over the last half century.



The oldest was in Melbourne, 1956. It was late autumn in Japan, and I heard radio broadcasts from the Southern Hemisphere where it was almost summer. The Tokyo Olympics that followed the Rome Olympics were blessed with gorgeous weather, and my impression during the Closing Ceremony was that athletes of all nationalities mingled freely and looked as if they were just one group.

Then came Mexico and the blood-letting at Munich. The Montreal Olympics were overshadowed by the arrest of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, while boycotts clouded Moscow as well as Los Angeles.


I saw Seoul's face in the city itself. Not far from the joyous cheering at the stadium, North Korea remained completely silent. The Berlin Wall collapsed shortly afterward, but the wall between the two Koreas is still solid.

Barcelona is remembered for the swimmer Kyoko Iwasaki's comment to the effect that she, then 14, had never experienced anything like it in her life. The centennial anniversary of the modern Olympic movement was marked at Atlanta, while the last Games of the 20th century were held in Sydney.


From around the Los Angeles Games, both the face and the back of the five-ring spectacle became flashy and filled with gaudy high-tech gimmicks. As there can be no Olympics without athletes, I wish the Olympic organizers would stop relying excessively on artificial lighting for TV cameras and show us the athletes as flesh-and-blood human beings.


In the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, I thought there were parts that were too contrived.

However, Vanderlei de Lima stood out--the Brazilian marathoner who was obstructed during the race and won only the bronze medal, saying he didn't care (about the obstruction).

With Athens, it appeared that the face as well as the back of the Games moved one step toward something more human, away from all those gaudy high-tech gimmicks.


And if another step in that direction could be possible, the Opening Ceremony should be held during the daytime.

On Aug. 8, 2008, I would love to see the face of the Beijing Olympics in bright, continental sunshine.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 31(IHT/Asahi: September 1,2004) (09/01)

Kaleidoscope of quotes from bombs to Games

When a month nears its end, it is time to offer quotable quotes:

Kimi Koishi, a well-known manzai comedian, said: ``Seen from the universe, the Earth is just a tiny star. Nobody has the right to abuse it by dropping an atomic bomb.'' Koishi made this remark when he discussed his experience as a bombing victim in Hiroshima before an audience for the first time.



Just like the comedian, chanson singer Juliette Greco was born in 1927. In a comment on her 18th concert tour of Japan, she said: ``The most beautiful planet is overflowing with deaths. It is being destroyed. That is part of the reason I don't stop singing. We must continue to raise our voices. We must keep fighting.''


This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw rebellion against the Nazi Germany occupation during World War II. Gerhard Schroeder, the first German chancellor to attend commemorative rites, said in a speech, ``On this spot of Poland's pride and Germany's shame, we hope for reconciliation and peace.''


In Athens, the coach of Iraq's Olympic soccer team responded to a question posed by an American journalist, who asked if he were aware that people around the world were cheering for ``underdog Iraq.''

``Underdog?'' asked Adnan Hamad. ``Soccer has had a long tradition in Iraq. It has always been an important sport.'' His team made it to the semifinals at the Games.

 「弱者だと? イラクでサッカーは長い伝統を持ち、常に大切なスポーツだったのだ」。イラクのアドナン・ハメド監督が、アテネ五輪で決勝トーナメント進出を決めた後の会見で。米記者から「世界中の人々が弱者イラクを応援しているという認識はあるか」と聞かれた。

As usual, this summer's Olympic Games generated a kaleidoscope of comments by athletes and coaches.

``Mizukiii,'' drawled Nobuyuki Fujita, coach of the women's marathon gold medalist, Mizuki Noguchi, when he spoke to her. ``You have done splendidly. It's over now. You can rest as long as you please.''

And an archer spoke from the heart:

``I hope the silver medal I have won will send a message to middle-aged people working in Japan, telling them that age is not an impediment to doing something great,'' said Hiroshi Yamamoto, 41, who finished second in the men's archery event.


Meanwhile, Kosei Inoue recalled the moment when the judoka was thrown by his opponent for his first defeat after a succession of Olympics and world championships triumphs: ``I went blank in the head,'' he said. ``What happened here doesn't mean my career as a judoka has come to an end. Besides, I have more years to live ahead of me.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 28(IHT/Asahi: August 31,2004) (08/31)

Are we capable of leaving beautiful ruins?

A festival does not necessarily end on its last day.

The Athens Olympics, which added color to this summer, are now winding down.

Even though some athletes have yet to particpate in competitions, there is an undeniable sense of an imminent end in television coverage of this summer's Games.



For instance, I sense it whenever I see TV studio sets, apparently designed to look like ancient ruins.

One set resembles the Pantheon. I sense the end is near for the demolition of those ``brand new ruins.''

It makes me melancholic, thinking about the permanence of genuine historic ruins versus the ephemeral nature of many things, including the Five-Ring festival.


Novelist Yukio Mishima once wrote, ``Greece is the object of my intense love.'' In ``Aporo no Sakazuki'' (Apollo's Cup) published by The Asahi Shimbun, Mishima gushed half a century ago:

``Let my emotion dictate my writing. I finally saw the Acropolis today! I saw the Pantheon! I saw the temple of Zeus!''

 「希臘(ギリシヤ)は私の眷恋(けんれん)の地である」と書いたのは三島由紀夫だった。眷恋とは、恋いこがれることである。「私は自分の筆が躍るに任せよう。私は今日つひにアクロポリスを見た! パルテノンを見た! ゼウスの宮居を見た!」と、約半世紀前に興奮気味に記した(『アポロの杯』朝日新聞社)。

Many ruins have missing features, Mishima noted. The joy of imagining those missing parts intoxicates the intellect rather than one's poetic imagination, he said, and it is an experience that evokes profound emotion because one sees the bare skeleton of something that is universal.


In ``Warera wa Utsukushiki Haikyo wo Mochiuru Daroka'' (Are we capable of leaving beautiful ruins?), published by TBS-Britannica, Isamu Kurita, a writer and culture-and-art critic, imagines the ruins that our contemporary era will bequeath to future generations.

Looking at the artificial forests of soaring urban high-rises, Kurita wonders if posterity will experience the sort of intoxication and emotion evoked by the Pantheon, for example.

``The beginning of a civilization, its flowering and the silence of its end are all to be found in its ruins,'' Kurita observes.


Sensing an end approaching stealthily to the Games in the city of sparkling ancient ruins, I thought about the height of our contemporary civilization and its future.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 27(IHT/Asahi: August 31,2004) (08/31)

Okinawa still weeps for its children lost at sea

The children aboard the ship were being evacuated from Okinawa to mainland Japan.

Like boisterous kids on a school excursion, the children chattered about the snow they would be able to see in winter. They were also excited about the prospect of seeing real trains and locomotives, things they had seen only in dreams.

But the boat that was bearing them, the Tsushima Maru, was attacked by a U.S. submarine and sank on the night of Aug. 22, 1944. More than 1,400 people died, including 775 schoolchildren.



A U.S. invasion of Okinawa was a looming prospect in those days, and the idea behind the evacuation of schoolchildren was to take them to a safe place before the expected fighting started.

Also aboard the Tsushima Maru were many families who were evacuating to mainland Japan.

Sixty years since then, a museum to commemorate the tragedy, the Tsushima Maru Memorial Museum, opened on Aug. 22 in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa.

Survivors' accounts of the incident have been newly collected for display at the museum.


The day the children went aboard the ship was Aug. 21.

Everyone ate what seemed like a sumptuous lunch, according to Kiyoshi Uehara, one of the survivors.

``For many of the schoolchildren, it turned out to be the last lunch prepared by their mothers,'' Uehara says. ``When I think about their misfortune, I can't stop myself from crying.''

The survivor was then an elementary school fourth-grader.

While he drifted at sea aboard a raft for six days, he had hallucinations and was attacked by a shark before reaching Amami-Oshima island, located between Okinawa and mainland Japan.


Not just survivors but many corpses also washed ashore on the coast of Amami-Oshima. In one village, the number of corpses reached about 90. But the military and the local police imposed a strict rule of silence on the islanders and did not allow them to inform anyone of what they had seen on the beach.

Because of the order, Uehara could not answer questions from his family and other Okinawans when he returned home.


In December 1997, the Tsushima Maru was found lying on the seabed in the vicinity of Akuseki island, which belongs to Kagoshima Prefecture. The discovery prompted calls from the bereaved families for the salvage of the boat or the recovery of the remains.

The authorities considered the proposals but decided that since the depth of water in the area was 870 meters, it was not technically feasible to implement either of them.

The memorial museum has been built as an alternative.


The items on display include portraits of the victims, some of their personal effects, as well as survivors' accounts of the incident.

The exhibits bring home to visitors the outrageous nature of the incident, in which lively schoolchildren were thrown into the pitch-dark sea and died struggling in the water.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 25(IHT/Asahi: August 30,2004) (08/30)

Imaginary museum just added a new Munch

``The Scream'' by Edvard Munch has been stolen again. In a daring stunt, two armed men reportedly yanked the painting from the wall in broad daylight as many stunned visitors watched, and simply walked off with it. This was at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Back in 1994, another version of ``The Scream'' was stolen from the National Art Museum in Oslo.



Let's imagine a museum of stolen masterpieces.

The collection is awesome. This museum has parted with ``The Scream'' it acquired 10 years ago, but another version of the work has just been added. The collection includes Johannes Vermeer's ``The Concert,'' which was stolen from a Boston museum in 1990. This is one of only 30 or so Vermeers that are known to have survived to this day. The museum also has a fine collection of Rembrandts and Picassos.


There actually exists a catalogue for this lavish but disreputable imaginary museum. Compiled by the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), this catalogue is in CD-ROM format and shows about 20,000 stolen works of art and cultural assets from around the world. It is a useful aid to tracking down stolen masterpieces.


Sometimes, they eventually resurface after being passed around from one underworld art dealer to another. The French call this process ``blanchir,'' which has the connotation of ``to whitewash'' or ``to launder.'' As is obvious from the word, hot items are ``laundered'' each time they change hands to make the identity of stolen objects ambiguous. The Mafia and other organized crime syndicates are known to get involved from time to time.


Some stolen masterpieces have come to unfortunate ends. Three years ago, an art thief was arrested in France. The walls of his home were decorated with his loot, and he actually called his home an ``art gallery.'' After his arrest, his distraught mother shredded and then trashed his entire ill-gotten collection. Among the destroyed treasures was a Breugel.


Munch's ``The Scream'' is one of the artist's best-known works. It will be difficult to launder it.

Since it is such a fantastically creepy picture, it is easy to imagine the man's voice crying out in the dark. Perhaps the thieves will decide they would be better off without it.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 26(IHT/Asahi: August 27,2004) (08/27)

Shibata pooled her talent to win Olympic gold

In my vision of the Athens Olympics swimming pool, the surface of the blue water is gently stirring under the blue sky, with ripples here and there.

But as I watch the pool on television, the ripples seem more like rough patterns drawn by the wind blowing over the Aegean Sea.

Competing in such a pool may adversely affect swimmers' times, but there is a wild quality about it, a quality lacking in indoor pools.



At the Games on Aug. 20, however, all of a sudden, an extra-strong wind disturbed the placid scene.

Ai Shibata, 22, won the women's 800-meter freestyle race, becoming the first Japanese woman to get a gold medal for a freestyle event.


This was a freestyle race, so whereas in other events, the rules are strictly enforced about kicks and strokes, in freestyle races, the swimmers can do as they like. The news that Shibata proved to be the world's best swimmer in a contest allowing participants to swim any way took me by surprise.

Shibata had a mantra to help her win: ``Awatezu, aserazu, akiramezu'' (Don't panic, take it easy, don't give up.'' As she swam, she repeatedly chanted the alliterate mantra to herself.

The swimmers who took part in the 800-meter race covered the distance in just over eight minutes.

In other words, they covered 100 meters in one minute-the speed of a person walking quickly. Shibata's mantra probably was most suited to a competitor putting on this kind of speed.

 自由形があるということは、他の競泳の泳ぎの方には、不自由、つまりは制約があるのだろう。どんな形で泳いでもよいという、一番開けっぴろげな種目で、世界の一番になったことに驚かされた。 「あわてず あせらず あきらめず」。この、頭韻を踏んだような「呪文」を繰り返し念じながら泳いだという。800メートルの距離を8分余で行くということは、1分で100メートルだから、歩行ならば、早足ぐらいか。「呪文」は、そのぐらいのテンポと、よく合いそうだ。

Let me quote a poem to praise Shibata:

``This is true of anyone/ When the thing you have yearned for/ Comes your way/ Just when you are about to decide/ That there is no hope for it/ Your heart goes numb/ It is certainly a delight/ If so, the same thing can be said of me/ I have won something better than gold/ I am just rejoiced.''

This is an ancient love song, taken from a collection of the world's great poems, published by Heibonsha.

But I would like to dedicate it to Shibata as a passage extolling the swimmer who has accomplished something that accords her a greater joy than a piece of gold.

 「誰にせよ、望み焦れていながらも、/もうあきらめかけていた そのものが、/自分のものとなるときは、/心もしびれる それはよろこび。/されば私にとっても同じこと、/黄金にもまさる これはよろこび」(『世界名詩集大成』平凡社)。古代の愛の歌だが、ここでは、あきらめることなく、黄金にも勝る喜びを手にした亜衣さんを讃(たた)える一節としたい。

Since the opening of the Athens Olympics, the swimming pool under the blue sky was an arena of heated competition.

With the swimming events at an end, the focus has shifted to the Olympic Stadium, where track and field events, the highlight of the ``back home'' Olympic Games, were starting in earnest, again under the blue sky.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 22(IHT/Asahi: August 26,2004) (08/26)

Is life like a marathon or a marathon like life?

Life is like a marathon. Or should I say a marathon is like life? It doesn't matter which is which. Both ring true. The race itself may seem monotonous, but it could produce stories with twists and turns, sometimes with high drama.



Sir Arthur Keith, a British anthropologist and anatomist, once observed, ``No two human beings have made, or will ever make, exactly the same journey in life.'' These words made me think of Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi.

I kept feeling Takahashi's presence as the ``shadow star'' of the women's marathon at Athens. I am sure many other people who watched the race also wondered how it would have gone had she been in it.


The severe conditions and the way the race went reminded me of the Sydney Olympics. Takahashi and Noguchi got a big lead halfway into the race, but the advantage gradually shrank, and both won by a mere 10 seconds or so. But Noguchi revealed a toughness that was different from Takahashi's, and broke the spell cast by the ``shadow star.''


To quote novelist Yukio Mishima, ``I would never allow anyone to say that life, like driving a car, will turn out successful only if you go about it with absolute caution.''

Noguchi's spurt after the 25-kilometer point was a pure gamble. I got really nervous, fearing she might lose steam. But ultimately, it proved to be the gamble she needed to win.


``Life is ... a blank book that is filled word by word by each person,'' said Sakae Osugi, an anarchist. To put it another way: Life is not like a book that has already been written.

Paula Radcliffe, the British marathoner who was the most favored to win-and she herself must have believed it-did not finish the race. The scene of her dropping out was a stark reminder of the unpredictability of any marathon.


A marathon is like life. I really thought so as I watched the Athens event. But I also imagined that, for each marathoner, this sport is probably life itself.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 24(IHT/Asahi: August 25,2004) (08/25)

Baseball tourney song signals end of summer

The country's trains were still packed in 1948, three years after Japan's defeat in World War II. Music composer Yuji Koseki took one of those crowded trains and headed for the Kansai region. His destination was the Koshien Baseball Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

After his arrival, Koseki stood on the pitcher's mound in the deserted stadium and turned ideas for his new music composition over in his mind.



He had been asked to compose the music for a song to be sung at the National Senior High School Baseball Championships, held each summer at the Koshien stadium.

The song was titled ``Eikan-wa Kimi-ni Kagayaku'' (The radiant laurels of victory for you). Koseki later recalled that rhythms stirring within him enabled him to compose the music in one go.

The previous year, Koseki had composed the theme song of a hugely popular radio drama. The theme song became a smash hit, as did the drama, ``Kane-no Naru Oka'' (The hill on which the bell tolls). Lyrics from the song, such as ``Kane-ga narimasu kin kon kan'' (The bell is tolling with a metallic sound), probably still ring in the ears of those who listened to the drama.

The theme song was cheering enough to sweep away some of the stupor in which many people were living, shocked by the nation's defeat in World War II.

Not surprisingly, Koseki composed the music for the baseball song in similarly cheering fashion.

 こうして生まれたのが、全国高校野球選手権大会の大会歌「栄冠は君に輝く」である。体の中からリズムがわき起こり、一気に作曲したという。前年には、彼が作曲したラジオドラマ「鐘の鳴る丘」の主題歌が大ヒットしていた。「鐘が鳴ります キンコンカン」。あの敗戦の虚脱感を吹き払うような明るさは、大会歌にも継がれた。

Much of this song's exhorting tone comes from the lyrics that include lines like this: ``Kumo-wa waki, hikari afurete, ten takaku'' (Despite clouds gathering in the distance, the stadium is full of light, and we play under a clear, blue sky).

The lyrics for the baseball tournament song weren't written by Koseki; they were publicly solicited.

The winning entry came from Michiko Kaga of Ishikawa Prefecture and was chosen from among more than 5,000 entries that were submitted from across the country. Twenty years later, the winner's husband, Daisuke, disclosed that he had in fact written the lyrics but submitted them under his fiancee's name.

 雲はわき 光あふれて 天たかく……。歌詞の力も大きい。全国から公募、5千以上の応募作の中から石川県の加賀道子さんの作品が選ばれていた。夫の大介さんが、自分の作であることを告白するのは20年後のことだ。婚約者だった道子さんの名前で応募した、と。

When the tournament song is broadcast at the opening ceremony of the senior high school baseball championships, one senses a dynamism consistent with midsummer. But when one hears the song at the closing ceremony, one senses that the end of summer is near.

The song sings praises of youth, but it is not all cheer; a sense of loneliness creeps in. Perhaps that's due to an imprint left by the author of the lyrics, who lost his right leg because of injuries he suffered while playing baseball. However, he remained an enthusiastic fan of the sport.


Sunday's final was a remarkable batting contest, and the winning team took the champion flag to Hokkaido for the first time in tournament history. (No team from north of the Kanto district has ever won the title before).

But Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) did not wait until the broadcast of the tournament song, signaling the end of summer, as it switched away from the Koshien stadium to the Athens Olympics.


I had to be content with humming lines from the song myself. While doing so, I felt the departing summer was different this year.

 あゝ 栄冠は 君に輝く、と口ずさみながら、いつもとは違う夏を実感する。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 23(IHT/Asahi: August 24,2004) (08/24)

Chess fans prefer a draw for Bobby Fischer

``Searching for Bobby Fischer,'' a 1993 U.S. film about a 7-year-old chess prodigy, touches on the legend of chess player Bobby Fischer. A former world champion who once enjoyed a hero's status in his native United States, Fischer simply disappeared from public view in 1975.



Last month, he made global headlines after being detained at Narita Airport for allegedly traveling with an invalid passport. He is being sought by U.S. authorities, too. With extradition a possibility, the Japanese government's handling of the matter has galvanized the global media.


His archrival, Russia's Boris Spassky, lost the world championship to Fischer in 1972 in what was touted the ``chess tournament of the century.''

In a letter of appeal to U.S. President George W. Bush earlier this month, Spassky wrote: ``Arrest me. And put me in the same cell with Bobby Fischer. And give us a chess set.''


Fischer returned to play a match with Spassky in 1992 in the former Yugoslavia, and Fischer won again. But since the tournament was in violation of international economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia at the time, the U.S. government not only refused to recognize the match, but decided to indict Fischer. He has since been living as a fugitive from U.S. law-but that has not deterred him from making provocative anti-American statements from time to time to bait the authorities.


``Bobby is a tragic personality,'' Spassky continued in his letter to Bush, begging for presidential leniency for his former archrival.

``Absolutely not social. He is not adaptable to everybody's standards of life. ... He is a person who is doing almost everything against himself.''


Chess tournaments often end in a draw. In the days to come, I expect a tug-of-war to continue between Washington and Tokyo over this chess genius. But rather than extradite him, could they not possibly call a draw? I imagine this is the wish of chess fans around the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 19(IHT/Asahi: August 23,2004) (08/23)

The crowning achievement of the Greeks

According to ``The History of Herodotus'' by the Greek historian Herodotus, Persia's King Xerxes was on his Greek expedition when a food shortage caused some Arcadians to defect to the Persian camp. (A Japanese translation has been published in paperback by Iwanami Shoten.)

The defectors were brought before Xerxes



and interrogated on what the Greeks were up to. ``They are now celebrating their Olympian festival and watching gymnastics and equestrian events,'' the Arcadians answered. And asked what prize was being given to each winner, they replied, ``A crown made of olive branches.''


Hearing this, one Persian soldier blurted out before everyone: ``Oh (Commander) Mardonius, how could you have brought us here to fight, of all enemies, people who compete in games for honor, not for money or material gain.''


More than two millennia since, we are now seeing images of olive crowns from Greece every day. Gently framed by those green crowns, all the faces are aglow with life, showing laughter, tears, pride, disappointment at failing to reach the top and elation at finally being crowned.


An image of Nike, the goddess of victory in Greek mythology, graces each Olympic medal. According to ``Chikuma Sekai Bungaku Taikei'' (Chikuma compendium of world literature), the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of the statue of Nike of Samothrace at the Louvre Museum in Paris: ``All you have to do is imagine Nike's statue. This statue does not just portray a beautiful young woman going to her lover. It is also an eternal statue that tells us about the expanse and splendor of the winds in Greece.''


Nike with her wings spread, wearing an olive crown, appears as if she is extolling every athlete of every nationality who has given his or her best performance.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 20(IHT/Asahi: August 21,2004) (08/21)

Time flies with 1/10,000th-of-a-second watch

Light can travel approximately 300,000 kilometers per second in an absolute vacuum. So, what distance can light travel in 1/299,792,458 of a second? The answer is one meter. To put it differently, that is what the meter is, as defined as in terms of the velocity of light.


 光は真空中で1秒間に約30万キロの距離を進むことができる。では299792458分の1秒の間に進む距離は? 1メートルである。というより、いまは1メートルを光速によって、そう定義している。

In the past, there existed what is called ``the prototype for the meter.'' It was made of platinum and iridium and kept at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Paris, and it had served as the standard unit of distance since the late 19th century. But since matter is not permanent, this bar shrank and expanded slightly in length over time. In 1960, the wavelength of light became the standard for measuring the meter. In 1983, the standard was changed to the velocity of light.


There was a similar pursuit for precision in defining the standard of time. After it became apparent that the traditional standard-the Earth's rotation and revolution around the sun-was not entirely accurate, the atomic clock took over in 1967. Roughly speaking, one second is the time it takes electromagnetic waves from a cesium-133 atom to oscillate 9,192,631,770 times.


Most of us can't conceptualize these figures for the measurement of time and light speed.

The measurement of mass, however, still relies on matter. I am talking about the international prototype for the kilogram, a late 19th-century invention. It was made of an alloy of platinum and iridium. Scientists around the world are trying to achieve greater precision, but nothing has been invented yet to replace the existing prototype.


Advances have also been made in the world of sports, where precision is important in the measurement of time, distance and weight. For years, the measurement of time relied mainly on stopwatches. Their accuracy went as far as about one-tenth of a second, but precision improved after electronic watches were introduced during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Today, the level of precision is said to be on the order of one-ten thousandth of a second.


Swimmer Kosuke Kitajima won an Olympic gold medal in the men's 100-meter breaststroke by 0.17 seconds. State-of-the-art measuring instruments are right behind Olympic athletes as they test their physical endurance.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 17(IHT/Asahi: August 20,2004) (08/20)

Idle thoughts on Diogenes and the Olympics

The Olympic torch stayed overnight at the Acropolis before being taken to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens.

The flame was lit from the sun's rays in the ancient ruins of Olympia and carried through five continents.

When I looked at the torch illuminating part of the Parthenon, which was built more than 2,000 years ago, it seemed to me that the ring of time, formed since ancient times, had quietly been completed.



I once visited the Acropolis. I saw several stray dogs. One was a big old dog with hair like a lion's. Frothing at the mouth, it was lying in the bush by the path leading to the Parthenon. Perhaps because I saw it on the Acropolis, the dog reminded me of Diogenes, an ancient Greek philosopher who was perhaps the most noted of the Cynics.


According to a book, the Cynics were so named because of their ``doglike'' (kynikos in Greek) behavior, or because the founder of the school began his lectures in a gymnasium named cynosarges, or ``white dog.'' (The book ``Girisha-no Shi-to Tetsugaku,'' on Greek poetry and philosophy, has been published by Heibonsha.)


Diogenes is said to have lived in a large tub as he pursued the Cynic ideal of living a life free of dependence on possessions and pleasures. There are many anecdotes about him.

Alexander the Great once visited Diogenes and asked what service he could render him. The philosopher, who was sitting in the sun, said, ``Nothing! Just don't stand between me and the sun.''

Struck by the reply, Alexander said to his friends, ``If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.''

 いわば無一物無所有の生活を理想とし、酒だるに住んだというディオゲネスには逸話が多い。ある時、アレクサンドロス大王が彼を訪ねた。大王が「所望するものは」と尋ねると、ひなたぼっこしていた哲人は答えた。「何もいらない! 日陰にならないようにしてくれ」。「余がもしアレクサンドロスでなかったら、ディオゲネスであることを望んだであろう」と大王に言わせたという。

In Athens, stray dogs were rounded up prior to the opening of the 2004 Olympic Games, according to news reports.

I wonder what became of the old dog that reminded me of Diogenes. It may be barking, ``I want nothing! Just put an end promptly to this noisy affair.''

 アテネでは、五輪を前に野良犬が捕獲されたと聞く。老犬ディオゲネスは、どうしているだろう。「何もいらない! この騒ぎだけは早く終わりにしてくれ」とほえているか。

If anecdotes were an Olympic sport, Diogenes, the ``doglike'' Cynic philosopher, would be sure to win a medal.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 14(IHT/Asahi: August 19,2004) (08/19)

In Okinawa, U.S. power still holds sway

News of the nation's defeat in World War II, announced in an imperial radio address on Aug. 15, 1945, was a bolt out of the blue for most Japanese. But that was not the case in Okinawa.

Japan had lost the ground war in Okinawa nearly two months earlier, and the island chain was already under U.S. military rule.

After Japan's surrender, the United States kept Okinawa under its administrative control. The island chain was returned to Japanese administration in 1972, but vast U.S. military bases remain.



Last Friday, a U.S. military helicopter crashed and burst into flames on the campus of Okinawa International University, a school that adjoins Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan.

The impact of the crash sent helicopter parts flying into a neighborhood of densely-built houses. Fortunately, no resident was hurt, but I find the handling of the accident very objectionable.


Local Okinawans had long feared an accident like this one. If only to prevent a recurrence, a strict investigation was urgently required to determine the cause of the accident. But as of Sunday, an on-the-spot investigation by the Okinawa prefectural police, a formal probe based on a court order, had not even begun, although two full days had passed since the helicopter went down.

The Okinawa prefectural police, acting in accordance with a law relating to the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, sought the consent of the U.S. military to conduct an on-the-spot investigation. But the latter reportedly failed to answer clearly.


Foreign Ministry's Parliamentary Secretary Shogo Arai was blocked from crossing U.S. military tape sealing off the site of the crash. ``This is not Iraq,'' he complained. ``The U.S. military may have the right to keep control of the wreckage. But they have no right to regulate access to the site of the crash.''


Since it was returned to Japan, it's estimated there have been 40 crashes of U.S. military aircraft on Okinawa. Arai spoke of the government's intention to begin talks soon with Washington to draft general rules on how to keep order at the sites of accidents. But the move strikes me as too belated.


A rise near Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and a hill by Kadena Air Force Base that is called Anpo-no Mieru Oka (military alliance at a glance hill) offer vantage points. When you look down from these elevated places, you are simply overwhelmed by the vastness of the Futenma and Kadena bases.

At the same time, you realize afresh that these bases have direct links with battlefields around the world. For those living near the bases, it is a thought that seizes them afresh every day.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 16(IHT/Asahi: August 18,2004) (08/18)

Olive branches wave to still the passions

Athletes take center stage during the Opening Ceremony of each Olympic Games. In Athens, the lighting of the Olympic torch, described by some athletes as ``so exciting that I felt goose flesh,'' was also a highlight. But the role of the olive loomed even larger.

People everywhere were waving olive branches, fluttering as the symbol of the 2004 Olympic Games. Olive branches were also much present in the Opening Ceremony.



The ceremony was apparently organized to encourage everyone to think about the gap between what the olive branch traditionally symbolizes and the world's present reality. The emphasis on the olive branch had a sobering effect.


Sacred to Greece, the branches of the olive tree have long been a symbol of peace. Based on this fact, the late novelist Kunio Tsuji quoted Thomas Mann's comment at the Louvre museum in his collection of essays, ``Kanran-no Koeda'' (Olive branches), published by Chuokoron-sha.

Tsuji quotes the German novelist as having remarked: ``Oh, how conflicting human beings are! People committed crimes. They behaved like beasts. They continued to kill each other for centuries. And all this time, they kept turning out these works of art.''

 オリーブは、ギリシャでは聖なる樹木であり、その小枝は平和の象徴だった。それを踏まえて、辻邦生さんは『橄欖の小枝』(中央公論社)で、トーマス・マンがルーブル美術館で得た感想を引いている。「やれやれ、人間というものは! 人間は罪を犯した。畜生のように振舞った。何世紀もずっとお互いに殺し合った。――そしてその間に常にこうした芸術作品を作り出したのだ」

According to Tsuji, the Venus de Milo marble statue in the Louvre's collection and other masterpieces of art may seem like the products of the pure artistic spirit, but they are actually born of the same passions that provoke massacres, conquests and violence.

Olive branches, he wrote, are a metaphor for the intensity of an artist's internal struggle. They are also odes to joy sung by the artist to express the purity of the passions.


The faces of the world's athletes assembled for the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Athens were radiant. An Iraqi delegation marched during the ceremony in stark contrast to the heavy fighting that continues in their homeland.


Sunday marked the 59th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War II. It was a day for all of us to look back over the path of conquests and violence that led to the nation's defeat in 1945, questioning why our country strayed onto that path.

Let us also listen to the song of the olive branches, music that pacifies the human passions, the chief source of conflict and strife around the globe.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15(IHT/Asahi: August 17,2004) (08/17)

DNA's genetic information all about the past

While a person may not necessarily produce offspring, all people are the offspring of human beings. Well at least, that's the story for now.



It's a different picture in the animal and plant kingdoms, where clones that cannot be called offspring are increasing. Even though cloning appears to be confined to animals and plants for now, there have been unconfirmed reports about the birth of human clones.

DNA, the genetic blueprint for living things, has been closely involved with human reproduction from time immemorial-and now it is with cloning.


Francis Crick, who along with James Watson received a Nobel prize for discovering the structure of DNA, died on July 28. He was 88. The two scientists discovered that DNA, the mysterious conveyor of genetic information to later generations, had the shape of a double spiral, or helix.


Watson's book, ``The Double Helix,'' was a best seller in the 1960s. Much later, Crick wrote his memoirs. How many times, he wrote, did he meet people who professed to be ardent fans and called his book-meaning Jim's book-fascinating? (A Japanese translation of Crick's book has been published by TBS Britannica with the title of ``Atsuki Tankyu-no Hibi,'' meaning days of enthusiastic inquiry.)

The two partners, Crick recalled, had some praiseworthy qualifications as scientists. Both were persistent, he explained, and both had the courage to abandon their views once they found there was no hope for getting them accepted by others.


Life scientist Keiko Yanagisawa says in her book that DNA is both the oldest and newest document on Earth, having been continuously scribbled ever since life first came into being on the planet. Her book ``Nijurasen-no Watashi'' (The double helix is what makes me) has been published by Hayakawa Shobo.

``This document offers explanations about `Where did we come from?' and `What are we?' But nothing is written about `Where are we going?' and `What should we be?''' Yanagisawa writes.


The double helix may offer a path to the eventual scientific discovery of the origins of life. Nevertheless, the old document can be a potentially tricky one. For this reason, utmost caution is required of those who interpret it or try to use it for other purposes.


The Asahi Shimbun, July 31(IHT/Asahi: August 16,2004) (08/16)

Olympics has returned to home, sweet home

Giorgos Seferis became Greece's first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1963. He said in his acceptance speech: ``I belong to a small country. A rocky promontory in the Mediterranean, it has nothing to distinguish it but the efforts of its people, the sea, and the light of the sun.'' (A Japanese translation of this speech is included in ``Noberu-sho Bungaku Zenshu,'' a collection of literary works by Nobel laureates, published by Shufunotomosha.)



A poet and also a career diplomat, Seferis was said to have taken refuge in Egypt and other nations during World War II.

In the 19th century, Greece had become independent from centuries of Turkish rule, but its postwar history turned out to be no less checkered. After World War II, monarchy was restored. A military dictatorship took over until Greece adopted the republican form of government.


No Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games is ever complete without the Greek national flag, its crisp blue and white stripes symbolizing the cultural climate and history of the land. The blue is said to represent the sea and the sky, and the white, purity and peace.

There are various theories as to why there are nine stripes. According to one theory, it is because Zeus had nine daughters.

Another is that nine is the number of syllables in the Greek words ``freedom or death'' in the victory cry from the time of the Greek war of independence. And this war lasted nine years, hence the nine stripes, and so on.


Positioned at a crossroads of Western and Asian civilizations, Greece repeatedly came under foreign domination. On the other hand, its culture, established by ancient city states, spread across national borders.

In ``Howaitoheddo'' (Whitehead) published by Kodansha, the British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead is quoted as noting, ``The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.''


A poem by Seferis goes:

``A short distance ahead/ I can see flowering almond trees/ Marble glinting in the sun/ The sea stretching with broken waves.''

 セフェリスは詠(うた)う。「わずか かなたに/花をつけた扁桃の樹が/太陽にきらめく大理石が/くだけた波のひろがる海が みえる」

The five Olympic rings have returned home, a small country where almond trees grow and the sun shines.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 13(IHT/Asahi: August 14,2004) (08/14)

Chekhov on the Russo-Japanese War

Ivan Bunin was the first Russian novelist to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Though less known in Japan than Leo Tolstoy or Anton Chekhov, Bunin authored such masterpieces as ``A Sunstroke'' and ``Dark Avenues.''



``Bunin Sakuhinshu'' (Collected works of Bunin), published by Gunzosha, reconstructs an exchange between Bunin and Chekhov at the end of the 19th century.

Bunin was 25 years old then, and was asked by Chekhov, who was 10 years his senior: ``Are you writing away?''

``Not really,'' Bunin replied. ``That's bad,'' Chekhov remarked irritably in his deep baritone. ``Listen, you've got to keep working. ... Never let your hand remain idle as long as you live.''


Chekhov, who practiced what he preached, worked practically nonstop on his novels and plays until his death 100 years ago in July. He died of tuberculosis in Germany, where he had gone to rest. He was 44.


The Russo-Japanese War broke out in February of that year. In ``Chehofu-no Naka-no Nihon'' (Japan in Chekhov) published by Daiwashobo, Chekhov's wife's younger brother recalls an episode from June in Berlin.

``I am hoping for a Russian victory,'' the brother-in-law said. Chekhov admonished him: ``Never say such a thing. ... Our victory will only reinforce tyranny and probably oppress us more, when we are already gasping for breath. Russia's victory in this war will stop an approaching revolution.''


The following month, Chekhov was on his deathbed. To his doctor who was at his bedside, Chekhov declared in German: ``I am dying.'' He then accepted a glass of champagne, drank it, lay down calmly and died.


According to the Shincho paperback ``Chehofu-no Techo'' (Chekhov's notebook), the notes and unfinished manuscripts he left behind were filled with delightful jokes. ``No Monday never gives up its seat for Tuesday'' went one gem. Another went, ``Anyone can write a play that can be produced.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 24(IHT/Asahi: August 13,2004) (08/13)

Burst pipe points a finger at nuclear dangers

Many people probably remember how the nation was rocked in 1976 by the Lockheed payoff scandal that involved former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka.

That same year, the nuclear power reactor in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, where a serious and sad accident occurred on Monday, was put into operation.

Four workers were killed and seven injured at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Mihama Nuclear Power Plant when they were sprayed by highly pressurized steam that spewed out of a ruptured pipe inside the plant's No. 3 reactor.



The ruptured section of the pipe in question should have been inspected regularly. But never once had it been inspected since the reactor was put into operation. The section was not registered on the list of spots to be checked, and for a long time, nobody noticed its absence from the list.

Worse still, even when its absence was noticed last year, the power firm put off a checkup on the section, according to news reports.


Newspaper photographs show a terribly disfigured pipe, broken as if slashed by a sharp-edged knife and curling like a piece of paper.

The pipe material, originally 1 centimeter thick, had been reduced to 1.4 millimeters at the thinnest sections. No wonder that pipe, surely a shining brand-new product when it was installed in 1976, had worn out and was left looking like a brown rag.


What British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) said in his ``Sceptical Essays'' may be worth recalling in this connection. He wrote: ``Machines are worshipped because they are beautiful, and valued because they confer power; they are hated because they are hideous, and loathed because they impose slavery.'' (A Japanese translation has been published as part of the Kadokawa paperback series.)


The ruptured pipe was nearly 60 centimeters in diameter. At different times, it might have struck people as beautiful or as a powerful arm supporting a huge system for nuclear power plant. But it has taken on a fearful aspect now.


We should take the ugly transformation as a sign that the pipe is pointing a finger of accusation at Kansai Electric for failing to fulfill its heavy responsibility by neglecting a regular checkup-an important form of dialogue with machinery.

But is that all the disfigured pipe is doing? As I looked at the newspaper photos of the pipe, it seemed to me that the pipe was silently asking the authorities and consumers a question: How much should we rely on nuclear power generation, which always has the potential of running out of control?


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 11(IHT/Asahi: August 12,2004) (08/12)

Cheaters, liars still going for the Olympic gold

A new Olympic medal design is being introduced for the Athens Games, which start this weekend. The back of the medal is inscribed with lines from Olympic Ode VIII by the ancient Greek poet Pindar: ``O mother of gold-crowned contests, Olympia, queen of truth.''



According to ``Shukusho-kashu/ Danpensen'' (Fragmentary selection of victory odes) published by Kyoto University Press, Pindar wrote this ode for Alkimedon of Aegina, the winner of boys' wrestling in 460 B.C.


Victors of ancient Olympic Games were greatly honored, but some were not above cheating. Pausanias, a Greek traveler of the 2nd century A.D., wrote in ``The Description of Greece'' that bronze statues of Zeus were erected in Olympia, funded by fines collected from athletes who had cheated. (The book has been published in Japanese by Ryukeishosha under the title of ``Girisha-ki.'')

Pausanias noted there was even a statue that bore the inscription, ``An Olympic victory is to be won, not by money, but by swiftness of foot and strength of body.''


He also recorded a case of bribery committed by a man named Damonicus, whose son was about to fight an opponent named Sosander. Pausanias wrote: ``Damonicus, it is alleged, being exceedingly ambitious that his son should win, bribed the father of Sosander.'' Both fathers were punished, and their fines typically funded a statue-building project.


Cheating and dishonesty have continued into the modern Olympics in such forms as doping, blatant commercialism and the use of the Games as a political tool. Were the fines still being used to build statues of gods, I wonder how many there would be by now. There have been reports, too, of vote-buying attempts by Olympic bidders.


Another Pindar poem goes: ``Creatures of a day, what is a man? What is he not? Mankind is a dream of a shadow.''

Sometimes, eternity dwells in a dream sought in total honesty by finite ``creatures of a day.''

 ピンダロスは、こうも詠(うた)った。「はかない定めの者たちよ! 人とは何か? 人とは何でないのか? 影の見る夢――それが人間なのだ」。はかない限りある身が、企(たくら)みなしに見る夢の中にこそ、永遠が宿ることもある。

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 10(IHT/Asahi: August 11,2004) (08/11)

Cartier-Bresson found eternity in moments

Sometimes, words take on a life of their own.

When they involve a famous individual, people often start using those words repeatedly-almost as if they were a set introductory phrase. Aside from becoming fashionable, certain phrases go down in history.

A good example is offered by ``the decisive moment,'' which captures the career of Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the 20th century's leading photographers. He died at age 95 on Aug. 3.



The phrase comes from the English title of a photo album of Cartier-Bresson's work that was put on sale simultaneously in his native France and in the United States in 1952.

The English translator did not use the original French title ``Images a la Sauvette.'' Instead, ``The Decisive Moment'' won out and became famous. It must be said, though, that the title would not have gained its appeal without the impact of the pictures inside.

I would not say it was a case of mistranslation. But an effort to translate the sense of the original French, not its meaning, produced unexpected consequences.


The English title suggests the book is filled with pictures that captured historic moments. But that is not the case. Small moments are represented, too. For example, one picture shows a man jumping up in a flooded square. A French poet rated the photo as ``a masterpiece that reaches the realm of miracle.''

The unknown man, who presumably disappeared soon in the crowds of Paris, would not have had the slightest idea that the figure he cut in the square would be remembered by history.


Cartier-Bresson himself was a featureless man. For this reason, he could instantly blend into his surroundings and lose himself in a crowd.

As eminent Japanese photographer Ihei Kimura put it, Cartier-Bresson was like a ninja, or one of the spy-warriors in days of old. When he found something or somebody to shoot, he moved quickly and often dropped out of sight. According to other acquaintances, he looked like a hunter stalking prey.


Like a photographer who believed that ``the smallest thing can be a great subject,'' Cartier-Bresson detected something out of the ordinary in everyday life. To put it another way, he was a man who found eternity in fleeting moments.


His pictures tell us that the lives of common people and street corners in the neighborhood are potentially filled with ``decisive moments.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 7(IHT/Asahi: August 10,2004) (08/10)

Filmmaker targets guilt of A-bomb survivors

``I fled. I fled like a coward, not even trying to save my classmates who were badly hurt and dying,'' recalls film director Kazuo Kuroki of his 1945 air raid experience as a mobilized student in ``Watashi no Senso'' (My war), a paperback from Iwanami Junior Shinsho.



Attacked by a U.S. bomber, all his 10 classmates who were with him at the time were killed almost instantly. Even after the war, Kuroki kept asking himself why he alone had survived. Ten years ago, he saw a play by Hisashi Inoue titled ``Chichi to Kuraseba'' (Living with father).


Set in Hiroshima three years after the A-bomb, the heroine, Mitsue, is a young woman who shuns happiness because of her sense of guilt for having survived.

She had lost her best friend in the bombing, and she had fled, abandoning her father under a collapsed building to die. Kuroki saw himself in Mitsue.


The film version of this play is Kuroki's third work in his ``war requiem'' series. The two earlier works are ``TOMORROW/Ashita'' and ``Utsukushii Natsu Kirishima'' (Beautiful Summer Kirishima).

I saw ``Chichi to Kuraseba'' in Hiroshima, where the film has been released ahead of the rest of Japan except Nagasaki and Tokyo. The Hiroshima dialect of the lines rang fresh to my ears, and I imagined the people sitting around me as probably having spoken it all their lives.


Not only in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also many people around Japan must have been living with the ``burden'' of having survived that war. Perhaps they feel the fact of their survival was not so much by choice, but more a matter of being forced or destined to survive.


Actor Yoshio Harada plays Takezo, Mitsue's father who appears as a somewhat comical ghost. He tells Mitsue (played by Rie Miyazawa), ``You better live my share of life, too.'' Mitsue realizes her father's message means that she must always keep her memories of ``that day'' alive and share them with people.

``Thank you, dad,'' she murmurs. I thought it could be Kuroda's murmur, too.


-The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 6(IHT/Asahi: August 7,2004) (08/07)

What would silent Lady Liberty cry out now?

In movies and novels, the Statue of Liberty has been covered by sand and washed over by a monster tsunami. This symbol of New York, often plagued by abnormal circumstances, has also been portrayed as a symbol of the destruction of the United States or the world.



Nearly three years have passed since tours inside the statue were stopped following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

But the tourists are now back. They can only go inside the pedestal, however, as the rest of the statue remains off-limits. This means the return to normalcy goes only as far as Liberty's feet.


``Jiyu no Megami Monogatari'' (A tale of the Statue of Liberty), published by Shobunsha, reprints a Tokyo Nichinichi Shimbun newspaper article from 1886. It was the year that France gave the statue to America as a symbol of friendship, in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of American independence. The article says: ``Erected on Bedloe's Island in America, this bronze statue of Liberty holding up a torch to the world is the largest of its kind in the world. A solemn ceremony was held on the day it was erected. ... It must have been an amazing sight.''


Later, an immigration center was built on nearby Ellis Island. Tens of millions of people have since passed by the statue.

When visiting Liberty, you can read the famous sonnet written by Emma Lazarus, a 19th-century American poet. In part:

``... Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!'' cries she/ With silent lips. ``Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore;/ Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tost to me ... .''

 やがて像の近くのエリス島に移民の入国を審査する施設が置かれ、千数百万人が通過してゆく。人々がふり仰ぐ女神像の台座には、19世紀の米国の詩人エマ・ラザラスの詩が刻まれた。「もの言わぬ唇もて彼女は叫ぶ……我に委ねよ 汝の岸辺にうち棄てられ/倦み疲れ 貧しさに喘ぎ/自由に焦がれて 群なす汝が民を」

As you take a closer look, you realize her weight is on her left foot. Her right leg is slightly bent at the knee. Her posture is that of someone about to take a step forward. In my mind's eye, I picture those immigrants of the past who literally took their first steps upon landing in America.


Since 9/11, the United States seems to have taken a big step toward using force to settle problems. I wonder what Liberty is crying out with her silent lips as she continues to watch all this.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 5(IHT/Asahi: August 6,2004) (08/06)

Holidays a must, but not only to beat the heat

One does not have to look at the statistics to know this summer has been almost unbearably hot. Our tortured bodies already know it too well. Publishing the season's highs only aggravates that sense of suffering.

The average temperatures in June and July reached all-time highs, both in the east and west of Japan. The average annual temperature in Tokyo has risen 3 degrees in the past 100 years.

This only goes to show that for health reasons, the importance of taking summer holidays has increased, especially for urban residents.



In 1889, the 22nd year of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), future novelist Natsume Soseki spent his summer holidays on the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. He stayed there with a friend from Aug. 7 to 30.

At the time he was a student at the No. 1 Advanced Middle School in Tokyo. (Schools in those days were commonly numbered.) Although summers toward the end of the 19th century should have been more bearable than now, he was keen to escape the heat of the city.

Just after returning home, Soseki, who was in his 23rd year by the old Japanese age-counting system, wrote a travel essay in classic Chinese. The essay was titled ``Bokusetsu Roku,'' meaning a journal like wood shavings.


Kojiro Yoshikawa, an authority on Chinese literature, considered the essay a masterpiece. The late scholar rated it as probably one of the best pieces of classic Chinese prose written by Japanese during the Meiji Era.


A Japanese translation by essayist Toshio Takashima can be found in his book ``Soseki- no Natsuyasumi'' (Soseki's summer holidays), published by Sakuhokusha. According to the author, Soseki begins his essay in Chinese by saying: ``Since my childhood, I have studied masterpieces from the Tang and Song dynasties of China and picked up several thousand words and phrases from them. Writing in classic Chinese has been what I like to do most.''

I find this paragraph amusing because young Soseki seems to be displaying confidence in his ability to write in classic Chinese.

Concering the ``wood shavings'' title, Takashima, who has a good knowledge of Chinese literature, introduces in his book Soseki's explanation: ``I chose the title deliberately to show that I regarded the essay as crude and, therefore, worthless.''


About this time 100 years ago, 12-year-old future novelist Akutagawa Ryunosuke was writing his summer holiday diary. In one page, the boy wrote: ``Aug. 3. Cloudy with light rain. No sooner had a few dark ominous clouds appeared in the north sky than the whole vault became overcast with gray clouds. Unable to enjoy swimming, I spent the day reviewing what I had learned at school and reading books.'' (This specimen was taken from a collection of Akutagawa Ryunosuke's unfinished manuscripts, published by Iwanami Shoten.)

 100年前の今頃には、12歳の龍之介君が「暑中休暇中の日誌」を書いていた。「八月三日 曇小雨/いやなまつくろな雲が二つ三つ北の方にあたまを出したと思ふともう空一面にひろがつて まるでうすゞみの様な色になつたので 楽しい水泳も出来ず 復習と読書とにふけりました」(『芥川龍之介未定稿集』岩波書店)

For many students, the summer holidays presumably have yet to start in earnest. What they do this month determines whether they will be able to say in fall that they spent their holidays in a meaningful way.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 4(IHT/Asahi: August 5,2004) (08/05)

Wishes for a peaceful Olympics ring hollow

``Orinpikku-to Kindai'' (The Olympics and modern times), a book from Heibonsha, notes that when the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896, Baron Pierre Coubertin, ``the father of the modern Olympic movement,'' wrote: ``War breaks out when two nations misunderstand each other. Until all prejudices that keep different races apart are completely eliminated, we will never attain peace.''



In order to attain peace, ``What more effective means are there than to bring together young people from all nations and let them compete on their physical strength and agility in a spirit of friendship?'' Coubertin wrote.

These words reflect his belief as an educator. But according to ``Sekai-wo Utsusu Kagami'' (A mirror that reflects the world), also published by Heibonsha, Coubertin was beginning to worry in 1935 about the Olympics turning into ``a mere show, an inane spectacle.''


``Zoku Orinpikku Gaishi'' (Sequel to the unofficial Olympic history) from Baseball Magazine Sha quotes him as saying before 1935, ``If there is really such a thing as reincarnation, and if I should be reincarnated some day, I would destroy everything I have created.''

He probably foresaw the Olympics becoming corrupted by money, drugs and politics.


The second Olympics to be held in Athens will start soon. Antimissile devices pointed at the sky represent a new facet of what the Games have become. After the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the world experienced 9/11 and two wars. Fighting continues in Iraq. Even if we wanted to declare a cease-fire in keeping with the ancient Olympic tradition, we wouldn't know whom to hold fire against.


If the Olympics were being held in the United States this year, I wonder if some nations would be hesitant to participate? And I wonder if the United States would have invaded Iraq as it did.


In hoping the Athens Olympics will proceed without incident, I'm imagining history that differs slightly from reality.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 3(IHT/Asahi: August 4,2004) (08/04)

It's easy to hit a baseball that doesn't move

``The way I see pitches, the white ball doesn't move. It has become something stationary to me,'' said Tetsuharu Kawakami, one of Japan's greatest baseball players. He made the comment around 1950, when he thought he had discovered the ultimate secret of batting.



Kawakami was known as ``Dageki-no Kamisama'' (God of batting). People still remember the apt way he expressed his sense of discovery.

Ted Williams was unquestionably the king of batting in the American major leagues. His batting average in 1941 topped 0.4. Legend has it that he could read letters on a fast-spinning record's label.

Both anecdotes attest to a superb sense of vision for moving objects.


Asked if the ball were an unmoving object, Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners' current superstar, jokingly replied: ``The ball moves around a lot. That's the way it looks to me.''

The question was put to him on the day he got five hits in a single game.

Given that Ichiro's average is continuing to climb, anyone would think he has super powers denied the average player. But he says that isn't so.


Once, though, while playing in Japan, Ichiro took part in an experiment that tested his vision for moving objects.

Participants were to read aloud 8-digit numbers shown on an electric notice board for one-tenth of a second, with the same process repeated 10 times.

In total, 80 numerical combinations were shown on the board. Whereas other baseball players read about 30 combinations correctly, Ichiro ended up with an outstanding score of 40.


Different sports require different kinds of vision.

Soccer players are said to be gifted with a kind of vision that enables them to measure distances in an instant. This talent is indispensable to make a sharp through pass.

Having the visual ability to measure distances in an instant is a matter of life and death for racing drivers who compete at speeds of 300 kph.


And what about the fans? August is a busy month for sports. The month's offerings range from the annual senior high school baseball championships at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, to the Olympic Games in Athens. These events entail hot contests, with players and athletes straining not just their muscles but also their eyesight.

Fans are also likely to find themselves abusing their eyes as they try to watch as many events as possible on TV despite the sizzling summer heat.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 1(IHT/Asahi: August 3,2004) (08/03)

World's children join hands to ban mines

Children from 11 countries will get together in Japan in August for a summit to explore ways to eliminate land mines from the face of the Earth.

The meeting in Shin-Asahi, Shiga Prefecture, will be an international version of the ``Ban Land Mines, All-Japan Children's Summit'' held last year with the support of the town.



Based on an international convention banning antipersonnel mines, known as the Ottawa Treaty, the Japanese government has disposed of land mines in its arsenal by detonating them, mainly in Shin-Asahi.

The other day, I wrote about the global picture of land-mine holdings prior to the signing of the convention in 1997. Japan has since destroyed its land mines, except for those it keeps for research and training purposes. But worldwide, there are still about 200 million mines.

Britain and France are among countries that have halted the production and stockpiling of mines. On the other hand, the United States, China and Russia continue to manufacture them.


Some mines specifically target children. These are nicknamed ``butterfly mines.'' The way they fall after being dropped from helicopters is said to resemble butterflies, with the speed of their descent being slowed by two protruding blades.

In his book on butterfly mines, Gino Strada, an Italian who has worked as a surgeon in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, says without exception, those he treated for injuries associated with butterfly mines, were children. (A Japanese translation has been published by Kinokuniya Shoten.)


Teaching children how to keep clear of land mines is an important and necessary part of volunteer work. The Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, a nongovernmental organization that has worked for the relief of Angolan refugees in Zambia, provides such information to both adults and children at churches, marketplaces and even under the shade of mango trees.


``What does this look like?''

``Maybe a lunch box.''

In makeshift classrooms, local staff members help children to understand the menace by raising cloth pieces on which the many types of mines are drawn. Instructors also use songs and puppet dramas to get the point across.


Delegates to this month's world summit against land mines in Shin-Asahi will include boys from Angola and Afghanistan who lost their hands or legs after stepping on unexploded mines.

For the participating Japanese children, the important thing is to get acquainted with these young people who are forced to live with the aftereffects of mine explosions.

Taking time out to attend the summit will be an important and commendable way to make their summer holidays significant.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 25(IHT/Asahi: August 2,2004) (08/02)

Finding inspiration from all walks of life

Below are some quotes I collected during July.

More than four years after volcanic eruptions forced residents of Miyakejima island to evacuate, Mayor Sukeyasu Hirano said the time was ripe for them to return home next February. ``I'm going home to return to the soil of my native island,'' said one islander. ``This is my own decision and I am responsible for it, and I don't care what anyone thinks.''



U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell quipped during a televised talk with Indonesian students in Jakarta, ``I'm going to be retired soon and I'll be in a rocking chair watching you guys become the leaders of Indonesia.''


Takashi Ito, a participant in the Homeless Soccer World Cup in Sweden, noted, ``Having become thoroughly used to my life as a vagrant, I think I need to find myself again by leaving Japan once. I want to find out how homeless people are faring around the world.''


Greece, which had never won a game in European championships, collected this year's Euro 2004 trophy. Coach Otto Rehhagel said: ``Our opponent had superior technique, but we seized our chance. What happened here is that the Greek team wrote soccer history.''


Novelist and Naoki Prize winner Hideo Okuda observed: ``You can't make people laugh if you write with no intention of putting yourself at some risk. Being humorous has to do with how far you are able to expose yourself. There is a difference between explanation and description. You explain what a circle is by simply drawing a circle, whereas you describe a circle when you black out the inside of that circle so people can understand what you mean by a circle.''


Speaking at a memorial ceremony for his daughter Satomi in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyoji Mitarai said: ``Please never forget there are people who love you totally, and they are right near you. Should you ever disappear from their lives-and I don't just mean your passing away-believe me, they are going to be devastated. And please remember always to love your own life and live it out.''  毎日新聞の御手洗(みたらい)恭二さんが、長崎県佐世保市での怜美(さとみ)さんの「お別れの会」であいさつした。「あなたたちのすぐそばに、あなたたちを一番愛している人がいることを忘れないでください。死という形でなくても、あなたたちが目の前からいなくなったら悲しむ人がいることを決して忘れないでください。そして自分の人生を大切に生きてください」

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 30(IHT/Asahi: July 31,2004) (07/31)

Megabankers losing the trust of depositors

``Government is a sacred trust of the people,'' says the Preamble to the Japanese Constitution.

In the Japanese version, the ``trust'' is translated as shintaku. This word is made up of two Chinese characters, which mean ``believe someone and trust something.''



Sumitomo Trust & Banking Co., whose name includes that word, filed a complaint with the Tokyo District Court when UFJ Holdings Inc., which had earlier agreed to sell its trust banking operations to Sumitomo, reneged on its promise and proceeded instead with merger talks with another major financial group.

The court ruled in Sumitomo's favor Tuesday and ordered UFJ to halt the merger talks, but further twists and turns are expected.

In any case, this unprecedented dispute seems to reveal how severe the circumstances have become for the banking industry, which has a long history.


When and where did banking originate? While it is difficult to accurately trace its origins, money changers and lenders were already around in ancient times, according to ``Zusetsu Ginko-no Rekishi'' (Illustrated history of banks), published by Hara Shobo.

The book explains that the English word ``bank'' is derived from banco, which is Old Italian for a table for business transactions. There are Renaissance paintings depicting money changers seated at long banco tables.

 銀行業は、いつどこで始まったのか。その起源を正確に解き明かすことは難しいという。古代にも両替や貸し付けはあった。銀行を意味する英語のバンク(bank)は、取引用の台を表すイタリア語のバンコ(banco)に由来する。ルネサンス期には、横長のバンコを前に座る両替商の絵が描かれた(『図説 銀行の歴史』原書房)。

Even today, most Japanese banks have banco or counters, where tellers interface with customers.

But what about executives in the inner sanctum?


In ``Meiji Bunka Zenshu'' (Collected works of Meiji culture) edited by Sakuzo Yoshino, there is a list of personality traits that are considered unsuitable for bank executives.

``Those with the following temperaments are unfit for the job,'' it says. ``Indecisive in all matters; invokes authority in vain and is overbearing toward others; quick-tempered and irascible; lacks principle; prone to practice favoritism.''


I would like bank executives to bear in mind that the money they are handling is not only their customers' money, but also money collected from all taxpayers to keep their banks afloat.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 29(IHT/Asahi: July 30,2004) (07/30)

Kabuki's modern face beams on New Yorkers

``The only thing I missed while I was in New York was that I was unable to watch a Kabuki play,'' wrote novelist Yukio Mishima to his friend Donald Keene, an American scholar of Japanese literature. Mishima made a trip to the United States in 1957.



Three years later, in June 1960, a Kabuki production was staged in New York. In Japan, protests were then raging against proposed revisions to the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty.

One reviewer, while referring to the mounting anti-American sentiment in Japan, paid respect to Kabuki as a theater detached from the real world. The reviewer noted that drama knew etiquette better than politics, according to a book compiled by Shochiku Co., ``Kabuki Kaigai Koen-no Kiroku'' (Records of overseas Kabuki productions).


As the times have changed since then, so have Kabuki actors gone through a generational change.

In my opinion, the Kabuki shows in New York that ended the other day probably made it clear to the audience that Kabuki was not necessarily a drama detached from the times.

For years, actor Nakamura Kankuro, who led the cast in New York, has been attempting to restore Kabuki as contemporary entertainment through the introduction of unorthodox presentation styles, saying that Kabuki was a contemporary form of entertainment during the Edo Period (1603-1867).


As the actor had probably hoped for, American reviewers took note of the Kabuki's unexpected modernity.

Commenting on the Heisei Nakamura-za company's ``Summer Festival: A Mirror of Osaka,'' one wrote, ``It turns out to provide thrills that `Spider-Man 2' can't deliver.''

Another wrote: ``One of the stereotypes we have of Japan is of a culture split between a relentless urge to modernize and a rigorous devotion to maintain tradition. Kankuro shows the two sensibilities are not necessarily at war.''


Incidentally, a collection of artworks from New York's Museum of Modern Art is currently on display at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo's fashionable Roppongi district.

The exhibition is titled ``Modern Means.''

When I stood in front of Pablo Picasso's ``The Kitchen,'' a work of beautifully drawn lines, I was struck anew by his mastery of sketching, a painter's basic skill.

Dancing is to Kabuki actors what sketching is painters. Future Kabuki stars have to start rigorous training in dancing as children. Dancing lessons are what gives them strong bodies and graceful body lines when they perform on the stage. This is also a way to hand down the Kabuki traditions to later generations.


Cultural traditions and modern times of the East and the West have dramatically converged this summer in New York and Tokyo.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 28(IHT/Asahi: July 29,2004) (07/29)

Love it or hate it, no excuse for broccoli fibs

Although some people detest broccoli for its ``grassy'' flavor, it is one of the commonest vegetables today, having rapidly won the acceptance of nutrition- and health-conscious consumers.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Japan. In the United States, too, the world's leading broccoli producer, consumption is said to have grown more than fivefold in 30 years.



People still remember how broccoli hit the headlines after former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush declared in the spring of 1990: ``I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid.... And I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.''

He reportedly had the vegetable banished from the galley of Air Force One.


Angry broccoli growers sent 10 tons of their produce to Washington, D.C. The First Lady tried to defuse the situation by saying she loved broccoli. A U.S. newspaper article said, ``It is not unreasonable to expect that by 1992, the next presidential election year, Americans may not want a leader who doesn't eat broccoli.''

All this brouhaha rocked the political community at that time.


Like cabbage, broccoli belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables. Only the florets are eaten, and they are harvested before they bloom.

The vegetable was first imported into Japan in the late 19th century, but soon disappeared from the market. It was only when people became health-conscious 20 or 30 years ago that broccoli made its dramatic comeback.


A semi-public company in the city of Osaka was found to have been falsifying the origins of imported broccoli, labeling Chinese broccoli as American.

I am sick and tired of this food-related cheating. Bush tried to weasel out of his gaffe by explaining that he was tired of broccoli because his mother had made him eat it too often. But there is no excuse for the fraud committed by the Osaka company.


I hope this scam will not turn people away from this vegetable. The poetry section of The Asahi Shimbun recently ran this poem:

``The small child tells me on the phone/ He ate broccoli/ I do not skimp on my words of praise.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 27(IHT/Asahi: July 28,2004) (07/28)

200 million yen gift is a mystery jackpot for Fukui

A recent entry in The Asahi Shimbun's column for senryu (satirical or humorous poems) challenged the ``Takara Kuji,'' Japan's official get-rich-quick lottery, to ``produce heart-pounding news once in a while.''

As if on cue, on the day the poem appeared in the column, a winning lottery ticket worth 200 million yen was delivered by express mail to the Fukui prefectural government.

Officials there have been working hard to help the victims of the recent torrential rains. The anonymous gift must have caused the hearts of the Fukui officials to pound.



Coming from one person, the sum of 200 million yen is amazingly generous.

As for the anonymity, I think the donor probably did the right thing. Winning 200 million yen could change anyone's life. The donor presumably feared that the person's life would change without fail if his or her real name became known.


There are some clues, however, about the sender. In the letter accompanying the ticket, the donor used an old-fashioned Chinese character for ``2.'' Consequently, the official who opened the envelope reportedly thought the donor might be someone older. To be sure, the composed tone of the letter seems to endorse that view.

Only the gist of the letter was made public. The disclosed passages do not offer any insight into the character of the donor. Even so, a certain sentiment is detectable in the passage that reads: ``If I could render some assistance to those who unfortunately suffered damage (from torrential rains), I would be most pleased. Luckily, the lottery ticket I bought has been blessed with good fortune.''


In Japanese, this passage contains a string of Chinese characters for ``ko'' (good fortune)-combined with a negative prefix to express ``misfortune.'' The heavy mix of these characters makes the passage sound something like the old saying that goes: In your life, good fortune and bad alternate like colored cords twisted into a rope.

In my opinion, the donor is not the kind of person who would go berserk with elation at winning 200 million yen. Instead, the person most probably calmly accepted the news of the extreme good fortune.

Even so, we know little about the anonymous donor, not even whether the person was a man or a woman. It also remains to be seen if more than a single donor were involved.


Fukui Prefecture once set up a lottery named ``Fukufuku Kuji,'' according to the book ``Me-de Miru Takara Kuji Sanjunen Shi'' (A visual history of 30 years of Takara Kuji).

The lottery was organized just after the end of World War II. The name Fukufuku put together ``fuku,'' the first of two Japanese words reading ``fukko'' or postwar reconstruction, and the name of Fukui Prefecture, which issued tickets. The top prize was 1,000 yen.


Volunteers have rushed to Fukui in large numbers in the wake of the heavy rains and are now helping to remove mud from houses. A flood victim was quoted in the Fukui edition of The Asahi Shimbun as saying: ``I couldn't muster the spirit to remove the mud by myself. When volunteers are around, I can muster it.''

The role of volunteers is not limited to putting in manual labor. Their presence itself serves as an instant morale booster for victims.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 26(IHT/Asahi: July 27,2004) (07/27)

Aged and infirm most vulnerable in disasters

Houses in suburban Tokyo were successively swept into the rain-swollen Tamagawa river 30 years ago after sections of the river banks collapsed.

A book compiled by the Komae municipal government refreshes my memory by providing a detailed account of the disaster that struck Komae in September of that year.

According to the book, the disaster unfolded this way:

``The house of Ozaki (name of owner) collapsed at 12:19 a.m. It was swept into the river at 12:45 a.m. The house of Nasu followed suit at 12:46 a.m. The house of Kimura was similarly lost at 1:09 a.m. The floodwater also carried the house of Suzuki into the river at 1:13 a.m....''

Torrential rains brought on by a typhoon had swollen the river marking the boundary between Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture and strained its banks to a dangerous extent. The municipal government's account is appropriately titled ``Tamagawa Teibo Kekkai Kiroku'' (Record of the breach of the Tamagawa river's banks).



Recently, river banks also broke in Niigata and Fukushima prefectures as a consequence of torrential rains. As in Komae, houses along rivers were destroyed and swept into muddy streams.

Houses in Komae were swept away even as people watched the swollen Tamagawa river. In some Niigata areas, water is said to have suddenly overflowed banks and inundated houses like tsunami.


The elderly mainly accounted for the list of victims. Not just in areas stricken along rivers. Some of these people died in their homes or in the living quarters of their apartments. A bedridden man drowned because his wife could not find help to carry him upstairs.

The heartening news is that two brothers, tying their bodies to a police officer by rope, managed to reach their isolated home and rescue their mother from her flooded room where she had been receiving nursing care.


What is most important to prevent disasters is to make sure that accurate warnings are promptly issued and disseminated without fail. Follow-up checks must be made to see how people were warned of heavy rains and how they were urged to evacuate.

One new lesson from the disasters in Niigata and Fukushima prefectures is that more attention should be paid to the question of rescuing those who cannot properly respond to warnings-the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and others especially vulnerable in time of disaster.


Slightly less than 20 percent of those who did not evacuate themselves when torrential rains hit Aichi Prefecture and other prefectures of the Tokai region four years ago could not leave their homes because they had with them someone who fell under this category, according to a book published by Hokuju Shuppan, ``Saigai Joho-to Shakai Shinri'' (Disaster information and social psychology).


The effect of being vulnerable to disaster goes beyond being most liable to damage. Such people tend to find themselves in a weak position when they live in a shelter and during the process of reconstruction, the authors of the book say.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 17(IHT/Asahi: July 26,2004) (07/26)

What would true Filipino hero say about Iraq?

A banner emblazoned with the words ``Welcome home, Angelo!'' greeted Angelo dela Cruz upon his safe return to the Philippines. The nation accorded this former hostage in Iraq a veritable hero's welcome.



Actually, ``present-day heroes'' is what President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo calls all Filipinos who work overseas, of whom dela Cruz is one. They number about 8 million, and the money they send home is equivalent to about 10 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. These people and their families must mean so much to Filipino society in a way we in Japan would probably never quite comprehend.

But Arroyo's decision to pull out all Filipino soldiers from Iraq has been severely criticized by the United States and its allies.


The New York Times editorialized on July 19: ``To the dismay of her allies, and possibly even of the kidnappers, President Arroyo is hastening to comply.''

The mainstream Filipino media are said to be objecting strongly to any opinion that is critical of Arroyo. And nobody seems to even dream of questioning the ``responsibility'' of dela Cruz, the latest ``present-day hero.''


Speaking of heroes, Jose Rizal is known as the ``national hero of the Philippines.'' During the colonial era in the 19th century, Rizal spoke out against Spain and was executed at age 35. A doctor by profession, he wrote novels and poems.


Before facing the firing squad, Rizal was said to have entrusted to his sister a manuscript of a poem he had written. Titled ``My Last Farewell,'' it contains these lines: ``And if on my cross a bird should be seen/ Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.'' (The poem's Japanese translation can be found in ``Hose Risaru to Nihon'' (Jose Rizal and Japan) published by Apollon-sha.)


Advised to leave his homeland at one point, Rizal visited Japan in 1889. He stayed for less than two months, but was apparently deeply inspired by Japan and its people. His bust, erected in memory of his sojourn in Japan, is in Tokyo's Hibiya Park.

I wish I could ask Rizal what he thinks of his nation's relationship with the United States and the pullout of troops from Iraq.


-The Asahi Shimbun, July 23(IHT/Asahi: July 24,2004) (07/24)

We must maintain ban on weapons exports

``Jirai Mondai Handobukku'' (Land-mines handbook), published by Jiyu Kokuminsha, contains a map of the world highlighting nations where land mines are buried. The areas, shown by spotted patterns, seem to leap out of the map, stretching from Indochina to the Middle East, and from the Balkans to parts of Africa.

The handbook also estimates there are more than 100 million land mines buried around the world, killing or maiming someone every 20 minutes.



Another map shows nations that manufacture land mines but do not have any buried in their territories. They include the United States, Britain, France and Japan.

Japanese-made land mines are kept by the Self-Defense Forces. These explosives have never been taken out of Japan so they have never killed nor maimed anyone in any country to date.


Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) has called for a review of the nation's three principles of arms exports that effectively ban all exports of weaponry.

Amid today's rapid advances in equipment and defense technology, the business group is concerned that the Japanese defense industry could fall behind its global competitors.

But while it is one thing to try to keep Japanese industry as competitive as possible, I do not see the defense industry in the same light.


Assuming the nation does do away with the arms exports ban, makers will obviously rush ahead to develop new technologies and seek to expand their market through aggressive sales activities abroad. What will be the result?

When dealing in weapons, wouldn't hoping to expand business be tantamount to wishing for situations in which weapons are used?


Anthony Sampson, an internationally acknowledged British journalist, writes about a global network of ``merchants of death'' in ``The Arms Bazaar.'' (The book has been published in Japanese under the title of ``Heiki Shijo'' by TBS-Britannica.)

Sampson observes that arms dealers and manufacturers have been advised by their governments to pretend that sophisticated weapons are not really meant for killing people. But, Sampson notes, dealers and governments alike are fully aware that they have to defend themselves with secrecy and hypocrisy.


Japan must never be allowed to become like them.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 22(IHT/Asahi: July 23,2004) (07/23)

Eccentric Kleiber enraptured concertgoers

Once during one of his concerts, an earthquake caused the audience to flee. But, with his back to the rows of unoccupied seats, the conductor continued to swing his baton, according to ``Wave 31'' music magazine.

When he finished, he complained that the orchestra was upset. He was told of the quake, and he said he had not noticed it at all.



The conductor who behaved this way was Carlos Kleiber, who died last week. He left behind a number of anecdotes like this.

His concerts sold out immediately. Those who were lucky enough to get tickets would spend days full of expectation and anxiety. The conductor had a reputation for last-minute cancellations, so they could not put away their concern until he actually climbed onto the podium. Even then, there was no telling what would happen.

But his performances swept away the audiences. The ecstasies seemed to be a reward for those who had waited in anxiety.


Kleiber and La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra Milan made a performance tour of Japan in 1988. In a review, music critic Hidekazu Yoshida said: ``There was a pastel-like exquisiteness to the way Kleiber conducted the orchestra. ... He is a conductor who does not hesitate to create a drama out of sound, using, if necessary, colors as brilliant as those used by Rubens and Renoir.''

Yoshida had been known as a critic who applied high standards of judgment to musicians and their performances. But he praised Kleiber to the skies and said, ``With heartfelt respect for the conductor, I say `Bravo' to his performance.''


Famed conductor Herbert von Karayan apparently saw Kleiber as a man who liked to stay home. Von Karayan, who was nicknamed ``The Emperor,'' is said to have mocked Kleiber as someone who ``does not appear at a concert until his refrigerator is empty.'' I wonder if von Karayan knew that Kleiber was the man who would fill the void created by the passing of the Emperor.


The road traveled by Kleiber in his 74 years was by no means flat.

His father, Erich Kleiber, was also a famous conductor. He hated Nazi Germany, and moved his family to South America in the 1930s. The family returned to Europe after the end of World War II.

But Erich opposed his son becoming a musician. As a result, Carlos Kleiber had to use an assumed name when he started out conducting.


Kleiber was presumably attached to Japan. He often visited this country despite his aversion to flying.

He was also averse to being interviewed, so I have never had a chance to see him in person.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 21(IHT/Asahi: July 22,2004) (07/22)

Whitewashing the truth about onsen waters

In the paperback ``Shinpen Minakami Kiko'' (New Minakami travel note) published by Iwanami Shoten, the poet Wakayama Bokusui describes the Shirahone ``onsen'' hot springs in Nagano Prefecture during the Taisho Era (1912-1926): Deep down in a valley of sheer cliffs, there is a pocket clustered with seven buildings-four inns, two ``soba'' noodle restaurants and one small store selling ``senbei'' rice crackers, picture postcards and other things.

The poet goes on to note the spa waters were probably the most effective in Japan for easing gastrointestinal disorders.



But it has come to light that the operators of the public open-air baths at Shirahone have been using additives to maintain the spa's famed milky white waters. According to reports, the waters began to lose their trademark color nearly 10 years ago. Afraid this could mar Shirahone's image, the operators turned to bath products that would bring back the lost color.

The additive they chose was bath powder made from hot water at Kusatsu, another famous hot spring resort.


Luxuriating in hot, milky-white water is certainly what makes an onsen experience so good. It makes you feel as if you have been warmed to the bones.

However, the color alone should not be so important. You could dip into an onsen of clear water and still feel the same rush of pleasure coursing through your body. It's all a matter of personal taste.


Erwin von Baelz, a German doctor who spent some time in Japan during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), apparently understood the Japanese obsession with onsen and gave it his blessing. He frequently stayed at Hakone, another famed hot spring resort, but he raved about Kusatsu when it came to the waters' salutary effects.

Baelz wrote in his diary, which has been translated into Japanese as ``Berutsu-no Nikki,'' another paperback published by Iwanami Shoten, that he wanted to build a sanitarium at Kusatsu because of its unrivaled hot springs and perfect mountain air and drinking water.


Kusatsu is still producing abundant spa waters. But there are other hot spring resorts like Shirahone, where the quality of the waters is changing and the fountains are running low to the dismay of onsen operators. I have heard of not-so-few cases where they are reusing their precious limited hot water supply.

Those operators will have to be honest about what they are doing, or they stand to eventually turn off all onsen lovers.


Poet Bokusui was at Kusatsu when he wrote:

``Boiling spa waters gush out/ The invalids gather together to stir and cool the waters/ Wanting to tame them.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 20(IHT/Asahi: July 21,2004) (07/21)

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